A “toad’s eye” view of drought: regional socio-natural vulnerability and responses in 2002 in Northwest Colorado

Abstract

Drought is a part of the normal climate variability and the life and livelihoods of the Western United States. However, drought can also be a high impact or extreme event in some cases, such as the exceptional 2002 drought that had deleterious impacts across the Western United States. Studies of long-term climate variability along with climate change projections indicate that the Western United States should expect much more severe and extended drought episodes than experienced over the last century when most modern water law and policies were developed, such as the 1922 Colorado River Compact. This paper will discuss research examining regional socio-natural climate vulnerability and adaptive response capacities to the 2002 drought in the Yampa–White Basins region of Colorado across sectors and will demonstrate how a bottom-up or “toad’s eye” approach to understanding drought is paramount to complement top-down, instrumental data-driven analyses of drought. The results of empirical observations through interviews and participant observation in combination with analysis of drought indicators will be presented. Implications for adaptation research and planning for climate variability and change will be discussed.

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Integrated Science Program, Advanced Study Program, and the Climate Science and Applications Program and their sponsor, the National Science Foundation, for supporting this research. Also, thanks goes to the Yampa–White Basin Roundtable and other water managers in the region who provided critical guidance and interviews for the research. The findings and perspective remain those of the author alone. Two anonymous reviewers and Will Steffen also provided suggestions to greatly improve this article, and Bobbie Klein provided valuable edits.

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Correspondence to Shannon M. McNeeley.

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McNeeley, S.M. A “toad’s eye” view of drought: regional socio-natural vulnerability and responses in 2002 in Northwest Colorado. Reg Environ Change 14, 1451–1461 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-014-0585-0

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Keywords

  • Drought
  • Social-ecological vulnerability
  • Climate adaptation
  • Colorado
  • Water-energy nexus
  • Social capital