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Saturday, March 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Washington’s weather changes require adaptability

Low mountain snowpack, trickling rivers and record high temperatures are taxing government resources and causing officials to wonder if they need to mobilize in the short term or plan on hot and dry conditions being the new normal.

Researchers at the University of Washington have pinpointed a Pacific Ocean “blob” as the culprit over the past two years. A massive expanse of water extending from Mexico to Alaska has camped off the West Coast and refuses to budge. It has spawned warmer winters, and the effects are felt year-round. The ocean itself has heated up and is being starved of nutrients, which is killing off marine life.

Scientists have not directly connected the blob to climate change, but they say that it offers a preview of what it will be like if warming continues.

Washington has been under a drought emergency since May, and every corner of the state is feeling the effects. The state is second only to California in the number of wildfires, once-promising salmon runs are dying of heat stress and farmers and city dwellers alike are being asked to limit the use of water. River flows in June looked like those of late July and August. Last winter’s snowpack was a mere 16 percent of normal.

To keep flows up in the dwindling Spokane River, conservationists are urging residents to ease the drawdown of the aquifer, which helps keep the river flowing. A guest column on today’s Roundtable page has the details. The Center for Environment Law and Policy has good tips on conservation at its website, www.celp.org/h2know.

Yes, the region is blessed with an abundant aquifer, but we cannot take it for granted. Plus, the Spokane River needs our help.

As fires rage around the state, federal agencies tasked with battling blazes are burning through their budgets. The U.S. Forest Service is spending half its budget on fires – the most in its 110 years of existence. If current trends continue, spending on preparedness, suppression, hazardous fuels reduction and related programs will rise to two-thirds of the agency’s budget by 2025, according to the Tribune News Service.

In 1995, fire-related activities consumed only 16 percent of the budget.

Western lawmakers are responding to the trend by trying to change the way Congress sets the Forest Service budget. The Wildland Disaster Fund Act, authored by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, would treat wildfires as natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. This would free the agency from spending caps when the need is great. The Obama administration is on board.

A bill shepherded by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers would shift emergency funding into firefighting and speed environmental reviews on timber salvage jobs. The administration opposes the easing of reviews, but there may be room for compromise.

All of these efforts recognize that Northwest weather conditions are changing, whether it’s the blob or global warming or both. Government officials and citizens must learn to adapt.

To respond to this editorial on-line, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.
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