OLYMPIA – Worsening drought and snowpack conditions in Washington prompted Gov. Inslee to expand the state’s drought emergency today. Nearly half the state is now expected to experience hardships from this year’s drought.
With more snow lost than added over the past month, runoff from snowmelt this summer is projected to be the lowest on record in 64 years. Snowmelt feeds rivers and streams, and in turn provides critical water supply for farms and fish.
“This is an ongoing emergency and we’re going to have some long, hard months ahead of us,” said Gov. Inslee. “We’re moving quickly so that we’re prepared to provide relief to farms and fish this summer.”
Despite recent snow in the mountains, snowpack statewide remains only 24 percent of normal. That’s lower than when the last statewide drought was declared in 2005.
Right now, 24 river basins among 62 in Washington are expected to experience hardships from drought. This includes 16 watersheds in Western Washington and eight in Eastern Washington where water supplies will be short. This equates to roughly 44 percent of the state.
Eleven watersheds were identified in a drought declaration on March 13; six west of the Cascades and five east of the Cascades.
“We’ve never experienced a drought like this before – normal rainfall but with very little snow in the mountains,” said Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “We’re engaging now with farmers, irrigation districts and partners in state, tribal and local governments to prepare for the hardships ahead.”
Ecology is working with available funds to lease water rights and develop grant programs that will boost stream flows, provide water for farming and create alternative water supplies.
Ecology has requested $9 million in drought funding from the Legislature. The money would be used in drought declared areas for agricultural and fisheries projects, emergency water-right permits, changes to existing water rights and to approve water right transfers.
Statewide, public water systems have not reported any problems with water supplies. Large municipal water providers in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have adequate reservoir storage and do not expect problems this year.
Homeowners and businesses with questions about water use should contact their utility district.
Ecology’s Washington Drought 2015 Web page provides daily updates on water supplies and drought relief available in hardship areas. Follow Washington state’s drought response on Twitter – search @ecologywa or #wadrought.