OLYMPIA – Washington has a statewide drought emergency that will likely lead some farmers to go without water for their crops and some small water districts to look at reductions for their customers.
Historic low snowpack in many of the state’s mountain ranges prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to expand the drought emergency to the entire state Friday morning. Earlier in the year he had issued emergency declarations for some regions that rely heavily on snow runoff from the Cascades or Olympics, as well as Yakima and some parts of southeastern Washington.
But as of this week, snowpack readings were at record lows at 70 percent of the monitoring stations. Two-thirds of those sites had “virtually no snow” and river flows were at the lowest readings in 64 years, Inslee said.
“It’s really unlike anything we’ve experienced,” he said.
Recent rain, and more in the near forecast, may provide some temporary relief, Ecology Director Maia Bellon said. But the long-term outlook is for a warmer, drier summer than normal.
The state will attempt to secure water from those with senior rights who are willing to forgo some of their supplies to help farmers with more recent or junior rights on a cost-sharing basis, Bellon said.
Even so, the state Department of Agriculture is projecting $1.2 billion in crop losses as water supplies for irrigation are cut back.
The Department of Natural Resources is preparing for another difficult wildfire season on the heels of 2014, when the largest wildfire in state history scorched areas of north-central Washington. Residents in rural Eastern Washington are being urged to provide “defensible space” around their houses and other buildings, said Mary Verner, DNR deputy supervisor for wildfire and administration.
Some streams may have their flows rechanneled to help migrating fish, and in areas where water has dropped so low the streams have impassable barriers, fish may be trapped and trucked upstream so they can reach spawning grounds.
But large municipal water supplies in the state’s metropolitan areas rely on groundwater, not stream flows and runoff from melting snow. Residents of Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma and Everett aren’t expected to be asked to curtail their water use. The state is not facing tough residential restrictions like California, which already has experienced several years of drought.