Climate Change May Have Big Impact On American Indian Tribes Out West

It isn't necessarily news that the California drought has reached near biblical proportions, but it may surprise many Americans to learn that the effects are spreading into neighboring states and will not only have consequences for the agricultural community, but for many other livelihoods as well. Despite record precipitation and snow pack, drought is still on the minds of environmental scientists, and one group that is a focal point of concern for some is the American Indian community. For them, climate change could plague them profoundly and for generations to come.

Research presented on Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., told of the possible hard times to come for western American Indians. According to a press release by Maureen McCarthy, Tahoe and Great Basin Research Director at the University of Nevada, Reno, led a symposium titled "Climate, Water, and the American Indian Farmer." Since water rights adjust for whichever native territory it is passing through dependent on the agricultural, cultural or resource needs of the the population, it's probably necessary to have a long discussion on how the severe drought hitting western states will effect the people promised those resources.

"American Indian tribes currently possess some of the most senior water rights available," McCarthy explained. "Yet extreme, ongoing droughts in our region combined with changes in winter precipitation timing and form are complicating the allocation and use of water in the West and stimulating Tribes, States, and the Federal Government to negotiate equitable and sustainable water right settlements to ensure traditional and production agricultural practices are available to future generations.
"These issues are complex and transcend ecological and sociopolitical boundaries. Knowledge generated and shared through this program will build capacity among tribal and non-tribal organizations to respond to a changing climate."
In short, the tribes have been guaranteed a certain amount of water, and if non-Indians keep using natural resources the way they have in hard times, there may not be enough for American Indian communities who will certainly suffer the most considering how much they depend on local reservoirs.
The Salt Lake Tribune report Sunday that although California was expecting an El Nino for the record books, the rain came to a sudden stop, stoking fears that the drought that has led water rationing is still on. Recently, in the west temperatures have spiked with no measurable precipitation in over 10 days. This weather pattern covers a surface area from Oregon to Arizona and Southern California. But locals in these areas don't seem concerned about these conditions. In fact, many are enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.
In February of 2015, National Geographic predicted that the American West was headed for the worse drought in 1,000 years. They drought they refer to, however, is supposed to start during the second have of the 21st century and is said to be a "megadrought." Scientists from NASA, Columbia University and Cornell predict that it would last at least 35.

But before you start getting your kids and grand kids ready to harvest water like moisture farmers from Star Wars, keep in mind that this is only if we keep heading in the direction we've been in thus far. If we are able to reduce emissions to the proper level, we can in fact reduce our chances of a crazy, post-apocalyptic drought by 60-70 percent. You don't have to believe in global warming or climate change to understand that water is a finite resource. If communities use resources faster than nature can replenish them, we wind up without those resources. It's as simple as the concept of a well running dry.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images]