Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes Cope with Multiyear Drought

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The water supply in the Red River Basin has been stressed in recent years due to drought, and its effects are compounded by increasing demands for consumptive use by metropolitan areas in Oklahoma and Texas.

Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes Cope with Multiyear Drought

“Some of the municipalities in our area have come pretty close to running out of water.”

The startling pronouncement was made by Wayne Kellogg, an engineer and project manager helping the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma prepare for the effects of climate change on water resources. Kellogg is helping develop a “drought contingency plan” by assessing the balance between future water needs and projected water availability in the Red River Basin.

The Red River Basin is a vital source of water in the South Central United States. The basin provides water for parts of five States (New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana) and supports ecosystems, agriculture, tourism, recreation, and Native American cultural ceremonies in the region. Moreover, the basin encompasses the jurisdictional boundaries of ten tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The water supply in the Red River Basin has been stressed in recent years due to drought, and its effects are compounded by increasing demands for consumptive use by metropolitan areas in Oklahoma and Texas.

Turner Falls
Turner Falls, on Honey Creek in the Arbuckle Mountains of south-central Oklahoma, is located in the Red River Basin. Photograph credit: Eric Turner, Chickasaw Nation
Advanced Tools for Preparation

“Developing reliable information about the effects of climate change on the sustainability of the basin’s water supply is a critical part of drought contingency planning,” said Duane Smith, a consultant for the Chickasaw Nation.

“Results of climate modeling show that we can expect longer and more severe droughts,” Kellogg said. “Much of the precipitation we do get is likely to come all at once, with the potential for flooding. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to prepare for that type of situation.”

Water managers for tribes and surrounding communities have sought funding and technical assistance from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to understand the potential effects of climate change on streamflow in the Red River Basin. Using USGS streamflow data, University of Oklahoma scientists coupled their global climate models with a streamflow model to project climate conditions for the basin. The scientists then developed a new model to determine the effects of the modeled climate conditions on streamflow. The results are being used to evaluate the adequacy of future water supplies for human and environmental needs.

“This gave us a model we can use to look at questions of water availability across the basin,” said Barney Austin, a consultant for the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. “It allows us to determine a range of possibilities so we can be prepared.”

“We’re using these results in developing our drought contingency plan,” Kellogg added.

Water managers for tribes and surrounding communities have sought funding and technical assistance from the USGS
The Red River Basin
The Red River Basin. Credit: Base from The National Map by the USGS
Collaboration Fosters World-Class Insight

The USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center manages eight Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers (CSC). These entities partner with government and nongovernmental organizations, natural and cultural resource managers, and scientists to provide the data and tools needed to help resource managers respond to and mitigate the effects of climate change on fish, wildlife, and their habitats and ecosystems.

The South Central CSC partnered with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and the University of Oklahoma to gather information about future water flow and develop products to help water managers in the Red River Basin make effective decisions to meet water needs.

“This is why our relationship with the South Central CSC is so important,” said Smith. “It gives us access to world-class technical expertise for evaluation of our water resources.”

“And the Tribes’ involvement with the South Central CSC has put us in contact with climate and water scientists who will be valuable resources for us in future collaborations,” Austin added.

Additional Research Already Underway

Water managers are already finding new ways the model can help them. “In some parts of the Red River Basin, the water is only marginally useful because of its high chloride content,” Austin said. “The model developed during this study is directly applicable to evaluating water-quality issues in the basin, such as chloride and dissolved solids, that can limit the availability of water for certain uses.”

For More Information

For more information, contact Virginia Burkett, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change, at virginia_burkett@usgs.gov.

 

Read more stories about USGS science in action.

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