A historically dry spring and summer followed by a record-breaking heat wave have affected water supplies across the state, prompting the Washington State Department of Ecology to issue a drought emergency for most of the state, including Grays Harbor County.
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 of Ecology to issue a drought advisory for 29 counties, including Grays Harbor. Averaged statewide, March through June precipitation ties 1926 as the second driest such period since 1895, according to a DOE statement. 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 of Ecology, along with the departments of Fish and Wildlife, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, are reporting signs of stressed fish, farmers and ranchers forced to cut back on irrigation, and wildfires 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.”
The most current U.S. Drought Monitor map showed, as of July 13, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties as “abnormally dry,” the lowest of five levels of drought severity. The map is authored by members of the National Drought Mitigation Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration —The map is updated weekly — you can click on a state to see local conditions at droughtmonitor.unl.edu/.
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% loss of wheat crops and difficulty finding feed for livestock. Rising water temperatures in the lower Yakima, Okanagan, and Snake rivers reached levels lethal to some fish, including threatened salmon species, according to Ecology.
Water supplies in Eastern Washington have dwindled, forcing the Department of Ecology to issue curtailments earlier than normal for some irrigators.
The department’s statement said there is little hope for relief before fall: “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.”
The only parts of the state not under the drought declaration are the metropolitan centers of the Puget Sound area. 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.
A formal drought declaration authorizes the Department of Ecology to take certain measures for the purpose of providing 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; and report observations of drought conditions.
— The Daily World