Deborah Thomas of the University of Colorado and colleagues looked at the situation for southwest Colorado, where many tourist and recreation activities are geared around water or snow. For example, visitors and residents can go white-water rafting, sailing, canoeing, fishing, snowmobiling and skiing.

For the state as a whole, the tourism/recreation sector is second only to agriculture in economic terms; in 2010 it generated $14.6 billion in direct spending and $750 million in local and state taxes. Yet this sector is often overshadowed by agriculture when it comes to drought planning and mitigation. That’s important because Colorado experiences drought in at least one region nine out of every 10 years.

Visitors might cancel their trip or avoid booking in a drought-struck region because they are concerned about dryness, fire bans, or wildfires, the researchers believe. And visitors who experience water restrictions or see a dried-out landscape may tell their friends, making them less likely to visit in the future. So drought could result in fewer tourist dollars for the local economy and a reduction in sales taxes.

"The model provides a roadmap for future work understanding the interaction of drought/water management, emergency management, and tourism/recreation, and lays out a framework to improve community vitality," Thomas told environmentalresearchweb. "As the Colorado State Drought Mitigation Plan was updated and the relevance and vulnerability of tourism and recreation identified, this work emerged to inform the planning process and improve drought preparedness for the tourism and recreation sector."

Along with colleagues from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and CIRES/NOAA/NIDIS, Thomas brought together bottom-up information from stakeholders and top-down management approaches for the southwest of the state. By incorporating tourism and recreation into the drought management process they hope to ensure sustainable economic development.

"The knowledge gained from taking this comprehensive approach can be used to develop more proactive strategies for drought mitigation and climate adaptation that ensure increased communication across all affected groups in the short- and long-term," writes the team in Environmental Research Letters (ERL). "This approach may also be applied to many geographic locations, and modified for use in other economic sectors."

Now the team is expanding the work from the southwest of Colorado to the entire state.

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