OLYMPIA – A historically dry spring and summer, followed by a record-breaking heat wave, have affected water supplies across Washington and prompted the state Department of Ecology to issue a drought emergency for most of the state.
The only areas excluded from the emergency declaration are Seattle, Tacoma and Everett.
In late May, the fourth-driest March through April on record prompted the department to issue a drought advisory for 29 counties. Dryness persisted through June.
Averaged statewide, March through June precipitation tied 1926 as the second-driest such period since 1895. A heat dome in late June brought triple-digit temperatures and smashed all-time records across the state, rapidly worsening drought conditions.
Now the department, along with the departments of fish and wildlife, agriculture and natural resources, are reporting signs of stressed fish; farmers and ranchers are being forced to cut back on irrigation, and wildfires are burning through dry vegetation.
“Farmers’ crops are failing and ranchers are losing livestock because of these dry conditions, extreme heat and lack of water,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “We’re experiencing more droughts in our state as the climate warms. These dry conditions, combined with scorching heat, are putting our way of life at risk. We must continue to act on climate change to protect our state.”
Farmers and ranchers without irrigation in eastern Washington were among the first to feel the effects of the drought, with some reporting up to a 50 percent loss of wheat crops and difficulty finding feed for livestock. Rising water temperatures in the lower Yakima, Okanogan and Snake rivers reached levels lethal to some fish, including threatened salmon species.
Water supplies in eastern Washington have dwindled, forcing the Department of Ecology to issue curtailments earlier than normal for some irrigators.
According to the Office of the State Climatologist, the three-month outlook for July through September shows increased chances of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the state.
A drought emergency means water supply is projected to be below 75 percent of average, and there is a risk of undue hardship to water users and uses.
A formal drought declaration authorizes the department to take action for emergency drought relief:
-Expedite processing for emergency drought permits.
-Process temporary transfers of water rights.
-Provide funding assistance for public entities.
-Hold public education workshops.
Individuals can help the department monitor the drought by submitting observations and photographs to the online Conditions Monitoring Observation System.