OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee expanded a drought emergency declaration to cover nearly half of Washington state because of poor water supply and warmer, drier weather predictions through summer.
Snow pack conditions are currently less than 50 percent of average for this time of year, Washington State Department of Ecology experts say. They expect the warmer, drier weather will cause the already-diminished snow pack to melt more quickly, reducing water availability this summer when it is needed most for farms, communities and fish.
Despite this past week’s rain, precipitation totals for the state remain below normal, Ecology officials said.
The following 24 watersheds are now added to the emergency drought declaration:
Chelan, Colville, Cowlitz, Deschutes, Elwha-Dungeness, Entiat, Grays-Elochoman, Kennedy-Goldsborough, Kettle, Lower Chehalis, Lower Skagit-Samish, Lower Yakima, Lyre-Hoko, Naches, Nooksack, Queets-Quinault, Quilcene-Snow, Skokomish-Dosewallips, Soleduc, Stillaguamish, Upper Chehalis, Upper Skagit, Wenatchee and Willapa.
The governor announced the initial emergency drought declaration April 4 for the Methow, Okanogan and Upper Yakima basins.
“I appreciate Ecology’s work with partners around the state to prepare for drought and to position us to quickly react to those in need,” Inslee said. “As the climate continues to change, we must be proactive in taking steps to plan for those impacts.”
Residents served by the Seattle, Everett and Tacoma regional water systems can be assured that their water supplies are in much better shape. These public utilities report that they have sufficient water supply for people and fish this summer. Their water managers are watching the weather forecasts and encourage customers to continue to use water wisely.
“The emergency declaration allows us to expedite emergency water right permitting and make funds available to government entities to address hardships caused by drought conditions,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon.
The 2019 state Legislature appropriated $2 million for drought response. Ecology anticipates funding for public agencies for drought response will be available in early June.
Officials say there are two factors considered for any emergency drought declaration: Water supply conditions that are currently or projected to be at or below 75 percent of average and a projection of undue hardships. The state last declared a drought emergency in 2015.