Environment
A drought emergency has been declared across nearly half of Washington, based on drought conditions and the risk of hardship on local areas.
Enlarge Icon
A drought emergency has been declared across nearly half of Washington, based on drought conditions and the risk of hardship on local areas.
Credit: Washington Dept. of Ecology

Drought emergency declared over nearly half of Washington

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a drought emergency across nearly half the state.

The drought declaration covers the Olympic peninsula, the North Cascades, the eastern Cascades and most of southwest Washington.

It allows local governments to tap into $2 million in state funding to respond to hardships caused by the drought.

River basins in the central Washington Cascades —where Seattle, Tacoma and Everett get their water supplies — were not included, though the National Drought Mitigation Center says they are also experiencing moderate drought.

"In terms of snowpack and natural runoff, it's still a pretty dismal year for central Puget Sound,” said Jeff Marti with the Washington Department of Ecology. “But because you have storage and infrastructure and redundancy, the risk of hardship is quite low."

Marti said rural areas with smaller municipal water systems and irrigated farms are more likely to experience hardships, part of the state’s criteria in declaring a drought emergency.

Irrigated crops including apples, pears, hops and cherries are unable to withstand even a week or two of interrupted water supplies. The big-city water utilities' reservoirs and backup systems are better prepared to withstand temporary water shortages.

The state’s snowpack is at 43 percent of normal, down from 80 percent in April.

The millions of snow-covered acres in the state’s mountains serve as frozen water storage and prevent forest fires by keeping soils moist and streams wet well into the state’s typically dry summers.

Marti said snowpack is now at its fourth-lowest level in the past 30 years.

The weekly drought map for Washington state released Thursday, May 16, 2019.
Enlarge Icon
The weekly drought map for Washington state released Thursday, May 16, 2019.