The Central Valley in California and the Heihe River Basin in Northwestern China are important agricultural producers and population centers. They are hydrologically similar with arid climates and highly productive agricultural valleys supported by snowmelt dominated mountain systems. However, the regions differ in their timeline of development as well as past and present policy. Climate change is likely to increase temperatures, aridity, and water source variability in these regions, increasing their vulnerability to drought. Droughts are costly and damaging to agricultural, municipal, power and ecological systems, making the understanding of drought characteristics in these sensitive regions of paramount importance. This study explores how similarities and differences in these regions can influence drought onset, propagation, severity and recovery. We aim to determine the relative importance of factors such as climate, water source and usage, infrastructure, and management, and the extent to which they govern drought processes. This sets up the ideological framework to study these relationships using integrated hydrologic models. Since these regions are representative of other arid, mountain-valley systems around the world, the findings from these two basins can be generalized to provide better understanding and management of similar regions to increase their drought resilience.