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Washington Drought Watch 2016

Last revised: June 24, 2016

Watching the water supply

As the recent cool-down gives way to warmer, drier summer weather, we are closely monitoring our water supplies.  Last year, a lack of snowpack and spring rain led to a drought that had statewide impacts.  This year, our water supplies are stronger across the state but we’re watching areas of concern.

There are two groups that keep close tabs on our state’s water supply.  The Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) is a team of experts from state and national agencies who meet monthly to review data and discuss potential water shortages.  If challenging conditions are identified or projected, they will bring the information to the Executive Water Emergency Committee (EWEC).  This committee is made of policy leaders who discuss the possibility of hardship in the affected areas.  If conditions warrant, EWEC can recommend an emergency drought declaration.

Last year, EWEC met several times.  This year, they met for the first time last week and did not issue an emergency drought recommendation.  The group discussed areas of concern and will continue to monitor water supplies.  They will reconvene should conditions change.

Status of supplies

Here’s a look at water supply conditions around the state as of June 16:

Weather impacts - On the dry west side of the state, the cooler, wetter weather helped improve river flows.  Today, about 55 percent of stream gauges are at below-normal levels.  A couple weeks ago, about 75 percent of our gauges were below normal.  The eastern side of the state did not benefit as much from rain. Rivers fed by melting snow (the Methow, Wenatchee and Okanogan rivers, for example) were running high due to early melt but are now below normal.  While snow fell at higher elevations this week, most of our snowpack monitoring stations are now snow-free.

Agriculture - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manages several large reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin, an important agricultural center, to help farmers irrigate through the dry summer months.  As of Saturday, the Bureau began releasing water, about a week earlier than average, from the reservoirs to downstream irrigators.  Last year, this action began in mid-April.  The Yakima reservoirs are fuller this year at 98 percent capacity.

Drinking water - Drinking water supplies are not currently projected to be affected by shortages.  Contact your local municipal water system for information specific to your community.

Fish - Fishery populations across the state are being challenged again.  Low flows in some streams and rivers have impacted migrating juvenile salmon, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery teams are already responding to warm water conditions.  Water temperatures in the Columbia River are higher than average, even exceeding 2015 temperatures on some days earlier this spring.  WDFW staff remain on alert for low-flow fish migration blockages and high water temperatures as we move into July.

Water Supply Information




SNOTEL Current Snow Water Equivalent - % of Normal by basin

USGS Current Streamflow

Drought Monitor Map

2014-15 Drought: Groundwater Level/Storage Response in Washington State