It’s not just California. The governor of Washington declared a drought emergency on Friday, but is not imposing mandatory water-use restrictions on urban residential areas. Washington Governor Declares Drought Emergency:
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency for Washington on Friday, with mountain snowpack at 16 percent of average and water levels in rivers and streams drying to a trickle not seen since the 1950s. He said that residents should also be prepared for an early and active fire season that could reach higher elevations in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, where many spots are already completely clear of snow.
“We’re seeing things happen at this time of year we just have never seen before,” Mr. Inslee said in a news conference.
But he said that unlike other drought-stricken parts of the West, especially California, the problem here in the nation’s northwest corner falls primarily on agriculture and wildlife. The large metropolitan water systems serving Seattle and other cities on the state’s western edge, where most people live, are largely in good shape, with rainwater-based reservoirs and no immediate plans for water-use restrictions.
“Rain has been normal,” Mr. Inslee said. “What we lack has been snow.”
But less snow — or almost none at all in some places — melting down to feed the state’s creeks and rivers has two huge, looming effects: on irrigation, which is crucial especially in Washington’s richest agriculture corner, in the Yakima River Valley, and on fish like salmon that use rivers and streams to reach their higher elevation spawning grounds.
* * *
One big irrigation system in the Yakima area, about 100 miles southeast of Seattle, recently stopped releasing any water at all to farmers — highlighting a shortage that the director of the state Department of Ecology, Maia D. Bellon, said was only expected to get worse in the months to come. The Washington Department of Agriculture is already projecting a $1.2 billion crop loss this year as a result of the drought.
“Forecasters are calling for a warm and dry summer,” Ms. Bellon said. And with finite state resources to keep farmers solvent, she added, not all crops are created equal. “It’s much more expensive to replant a pear orchard,” she said.
For fish heading upstream, wildlife managers said they planned to cut temporary channels, creating navigable pathways through low waters, but that in other instances they may have no choice but to trap the fish and haul them up to the spawning areas by truck.
Mr. Inslee said the state’s urban water systems, beyond having good luck in collecting rainwater even as snow became scarce this winter, have also invested well in water storage and collection, which he said bodes well for the state in general, because long-range projections of the climate in the Northwest suggest that warmer temperatures could make this year’s precipitation pattern more the norm than the exception.
From the governor’s office. Governor declares statewide drought emergency:
With snowpack at historic lows, rivers dwindling and irrigation districts cutting off water to farmers, Gov. Jay Inslee today declared a statewide drought for Washington.
“We’re really starting to feel the pain from this snowpack drought,” Inslee said. “Impacts are already severe in several areas of the state. Difficult decisions are being made about what crops get priority water and how best to save fish.”
The Washington Department of Agriculture is projecting a $1.2 billion crop loss this year as a result of the drought.
To protect crops in the state’s most productive agricultural region — the Yakima Basin — irrigation districts are turning off water for weeks at a time to try to extend water supplies longer into the summer.
In the Walla Walla region, water is being shifted from creek to creek to keep water flowing for steelhead, Chinook and bull trout. Fish are even being hauled farther upstream to cooler water.
On the Olympic Peninsula, where there would normally be 80 inches of snow now, flowers such as glacier lilies are blooming.
As things continue to dry out, the Department of Natural Resources expects more early-season and higher-elevation wildfires.
In the Puget Sound region, the large municipal water suppliers such as Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have adequate reservoir storage to meet their customers’ needs and do not anticipate water shortages. Homeowners and businesses with questions about water use should contact their local utility district.
“This drought is unlike any we’ve ever experienced,” said Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Rain amounts have been normal but snow has been scarce. And we’re watching what little snow we have quickly disappear.”
Snowpack in the mountains has dropped to just 16 percent of normal levels statewide. Snowmelt through the spring and summer is what usually keeps rivers flowing, crops watered and fish alive. However, the snow has already melted in the central Puget Sound basin and upper Yakima basin, and on the Olympic Peninsula.
On May 1, the Natural Resources Conservation Service found 11 snow sites in Washington that are snow free for the first time ever. Of the 98 snow sites the Conservation Service measured in Washington, 66 of them are currently snow free.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported in April that 78 percent of streams statewide were running below or much below normal. Some were already at historic lows.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water for the Yakima Basin, has tapped into reservoir storage two months earlier than normal.
“We have some tough, challenging months ahead of us. We’re ready to bring support and relief to the hardest hit areas of the state. We’re going to do everything we can to get through this,” Inslee said.
Farmers and communities facing hardships may qualify for drought relief funds. Money can be used to drill water wells, lease water rights and acquire pumps and pipes to move water from one location to another.
The Department of Ecology has been leasing water rights to boost stream flows, partnering with other agencies to evaluate fish passage problems and monitoring well water supplies.
A request for $9.5 million in drought relief funds has been submitted to the Legislature. Until funding is approved, Ecology is using existing funds for drought relief work.
“We’ve been busy the past few months working with sister agencies, tribes and communities to prepare and respond to this,” Bellon said. “We’re working hard to help farmers, communities and fish survive this drought.”
For those of you who think that drought is just a minor inconvenience in water usage, think again. The western drought is having a major impact on agriculture and ranching, and is having an impact on food supplies and prices.