Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geography

Committee Chair

David Shively

Commitee Members

Len Broberg, Sarah J. Halvorson


Hazards, Irrigation, Drought, Vulnerability


University of Montana


Irrigation has traditionally been used to buffer the effects of drought in agricultural communities. However, drought events can still lead to drought damage for irrigators by reducing irrigation water supplies, increasing crop water demand, and creating habitats for invasive pests and weeds. Further, drought will be increasingly problematic in irrigated areas as climate change continues to affect global climates and water resources. The Flathead River basin contains substantial areas of irrigated agriculture including the 128,000 acre Flathead Irrigation Project (FIP). The FIP is the largest irrigation project in Montana as well as the largest of the 16 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) federal irrigation projects. This thesis explores the drought experiences of irrigators in the Flathead River basin using a case study approach. Eighteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with irrigators in the basin and then analyzed using content analysis. Themes from this analysis were then explored in order to understand how irrigators are vulnerable to drought. Findings show that drought for irrigators in the Flathead River basin is a complex phenomenon. It is physically constructed of processes affecting both long-term water availability and short-term growing season dryness. Additionally, institutional arrangements affecting water management and the economic marginalization of the agriculturalist lifestyle have led to drought vulnerabilities for some irrigators in the basin. These findings illustrate how the political economy of irrigation and agriculture are contributing to drought impacts and drought hazard in the Flathead River basin.



© Copyright 2010 Joel Brown Stephen