Dynamics of Vulnerability in Drought Contexts: A Comparison of Two Case Studies in Colorado and Utah

Authors: Jen Henderson*, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Lisa Dilling, Western Water Assessment, Ursula Rick, Western Water Assessment, Rebecca Morss, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Olga Wilhelmi, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Hazards and Vulnerability, Sustainability Science
Keywords: drought, disasters, vulnerability
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A3, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Drought is a slow disaster that generates long-term impacts on communities, even after a drought has ended. In their efforts to recover, many create drought plans or institute adaptability and resilience measures to reduce future risks of problems related to insufficient water or poor water quality. Implementing these plans, however, can create unintended consequences for those adjacent to or some distance from the community. These effects can be surprising in their propagation throughout a system and in the positive and negative effect on others. Such dynamics are especially salient in areas that are transforming from largely agricultural areas to more urban areas, and in places where there are traditionally vulnerable populations. This study draws on thirty semi-structured interviews across multiple sectors and spatialities of the Arkansas River in Colorado and Weber River in Utah. Analysis of these interviews suggests an array of unexpected vulnerabilities, such as rural communities left without water, and resiliences, such as river flow programs to help protect fish, arose in the context of recent droughts, which have configured current practices of drought preparation. The two cases provide useful points of comparison since they represent communities with similar water supply challenges and topographies, as well as distinctive insights based on differences in experiences and thus preparations for drought. Results highlight how additional variables related to time, place, and culture potentially shape the dynamics of vulnerability around drought.

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