Does access to water make you more vulnerable to drought?

It might seem obvious that the more water you have available, the less vulnerable you are to drought. Or not so obvious?

Comparing counties over the Ogallala with nearby similar counties, groundwater access increased irrigation intensity and initially reduced the impact of droughts. Over time, land-use adjusted toward water-intensive crops and drought-sensitivity increased; conversely, farmers in water-scarce counties maintained drought-resistant practices that fully mitigated higher drought-sensitivity.

That’s from Hornbeck and Keskin, The Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Climate.


  1. As much as I dislike the mendacity of Pielke Sr., I’ll mention he was one of the authors of a report on the Colo drought in the early noughties that found the drought wasn’t that bad, but the response was. That is: we weren’t resilient societally and individuals didn’t adapt. Yet another area where we can’t really conduct our affairs.



  2. Hi John,

    Excellent point. I think there are parallels here also to the Maya ‘Collapse’ (presumably at least in part influenced by droughts). Bruce Dahlin talked about this in his 2002 paper, ‘Climate change and the end of the Classic Period in Yucatan: Resolving a Paradox’ :

    ‘… the generally drier conditions on the Northern Plains of Yucatan probably preconditioned individuals and governments to cope with more frequent droughts than in the south, even under the best conditions.’

    Anthropologists have also argued for the important role that _control_ of water plays in how drought ultimately influences social or political conditions, i.e. Lisa Lucero’s ‘The Collapse of the Classic Maya: A Case for the Role of Water Control’ where she points out that it was regional centers of power (which controlled water infrastructure) that collapsed, as opposed to the smaller cities. We also (attempted to) make a similar point (last year in our PNAS paper about the ‘Angkor Droughts’ of the 14th and 15th centuries) about how drought might have played a role in the downfall of a society highly engineered for the control of regional water sources in southeast Asia.

  3. “practices that fully mitigated higher drought-sensitivity”

    So far. Watch out for that sudden stop at the bottom.

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