Project Overview

Native Waters on Arid Lands partners researchers and extension experts with tribal communities in the Great Basin and American Southwest to collaboratively understand the impacts of climatic change and evaluate adaption options for sustaining water resources and agriculture.

Adapting to Challenges

Climate change predictions for the Great Basin and Southwestern U.S. include decreased water availability, extended droughts, changes in precipitation amounts and timing, reduced surface water availability, declining groundwater supplies, and warmer temperatures — all of which may create challenges for agricultural producers.

Because of close cultural and economic ties to natural resources, geographic remoteness, and economic challenges, some say that American Indian agriculturalists will be some of the most vulnerable populations to climate change.  Native Waters on Arid Lands asks the question “What can tribal farmers and ranchers do to adapt?”


Goals and Objectives

The goal of Native Waters on Arid Lands is to increase the climate resiliency of tribal agriculture and water resources on American Indian lands of the Great Basin and Southwest.

Climate resiliency is the capacity to adapt or respond effectively to change in the face of extreme climate events. In a climate resilient community, stakeholders understand, acknowledge, anticipate and absorb extreme climate events, and possess the capacity to reorganize as necessary to maintain essential community functions and identity.

Specific objectives of the Native Waters program fall into three categories: Research, outreach, and evaluating resiliency.

Research Objectives

  • Analyze water availability on tribal land under different climate scenarios
  • Evaluate agricultural water rights policies
  • Assess costs and benefits of using Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) tools
  • Gather traditional knowledge about ecological, agricultural, and sociocultural changes due to past/present climate events

Outreach Objectives:

  • Educate, communicate and work with tribal communities to enhance understanding of the impacts to water resources and agriculture from extreme climate events
  • Host annual Tribal Summit and regular on-reservation meetings with tribal members
  • Collaboratively design and deploy an information portal for tribes to share and access project information

Objectives for Evaluating Resiliency:

  • Identify water systems infrastructure limitations
  • Conduct cost/benefit analyses for water management improvements
  • Identify policy, economic, and societal barriers to enhancing resiliency of water and agriculture
  • Increase tribal capacity to adapt and respond to a range of climate scenarios


A Collaborative Approach

In this project, a multi-state, multidisciplinary team of researchers and extension experts works with tribal producers and governments to address water availability for sustainable agriculture on American Indian reservations in the Great Basin. Native Waters on Arid Lands aims to:

  • Establish partnerships among tribes and 1862/1994 Land Grant researchers, extension experts, and educators.
  • Incorporate traditional knowledge.
  • Analyze water economics and policy.
  • Develop climate impact scenarios and water supply models.
  • Identify risks and evaluate options for sustaining tribal water resources and agriculture practices.
  • Promote tribal-focused climate resiliency education.
  • Build capacity within tribes and tribal colleges to enhance climate adaptation.
Geographic Area

Native Waters project area.
The project area includes Native American reservations in the Great Basin and American Southwest.



Funding for this project is provided by a $4.5 million grant from USDA/NIFA.


This five-year project will run from 2015 to 2020. It will be implemented in three phases.