Drought emergency declared in Washington state

Leader news staff
news@ptleader.com
Posted 7/14/21

The Washington state Department of Ecology declared a "drought emergency" for most of the state Wednesday.

Officials said the declaration was due to the historically dry spring and summer and the …

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Drought emergency declared in Washington state

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The Washington state Department of Ecology declared a "drought emergency" for most of the state Wednesday.

Officials said the declaration was due to the historically dry spring and summer and the record-breaking heat wave that followed.

That double-whammy has impacted water supplies across Washington.

“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.”

The only areas excluded from the drought emergency declaration are Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. Seattle, Tacoma and Everett are expected to have sufficient water storage to meet residential and commercial needs through the summer, and to maintain adequate water levels in nearby rivers to protect fish.

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.

March through April was the fourth-driest on record in Washington, and prompted Ecology to issue a drought advisory for 29 counties in late May.

The lack of rain continued through June.

State officials that the statewide average of precipitation  measurements from March through June tied 1926 as the second driest such period since 1895. 

Then, in late June, drought conditions got rapidly worse as a heat dome spurred triple-digit temperatures across the state and smashed all-time records.

Multiple agencies across Washington — Ecology, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Natural Resources — have reported signs of stressed fish, farmers and ranchers are being forced to cut back on irrigation, and wildfires are burning through dry vegetation.

Eastern Washington farmers and ranchers who lack irrigation 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, according to Ecology officials. Rising water temperatures in the lower Yakima, Okanagan, and Snake rivers reached levels lethal to some fish, including threatened salmon species.

The outlook for a wet rebound by fall appears unlikely. According to the Office of the State Climatologist newsletter, the three-month outlook for July through September shows increased chances of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the entire state.

“We’re now in the literal heat of summer and the driest time of year,” said Ecology Director Laura Watson. 

“As our climate warms, droughts will be more frequent," Watson added. "Focusing on additional water storage, water efficiency and reuse, and changes in agriculture practices will help Washington be more resilient and protect water for communities, farms and fish.”

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