Last updated: May 26, 2015 - This page is being maintained as an archive of past activity and will not be updated.

2015 Drought Declaration Process and Timeline



Regulations — State law allows Ecology to declare a drought emergency if we determine that all or part of a geographical area is suffering from drought conditions.  This is done with the written approval of the Governor, acting under the advice of the Water Supply Availability Committee and the state Executive Water Emergency Committee.
>> For more information, see Drought Laws and Rules.

Criteria — Unlike most states, Washington has a legal definition of drought.  It requires that two conditions be met and it differs from the drought rating scale applied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The two conditions are:

Once Ecology declares a drought at the direction of the Governor, we can provide drought relief funding for those experiencing hardships and to boost stream flows for fish.

May 15, 2015
Governor declares statewide drought emergency


OLYMPIA – 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.”

April 17, 2015
Governor added 13 more river basins to list of areas qualifying for drought relief funds


Declining snowpack and forecasts for record low run-off from snowmelt prompted Governor Jay Inslee on April 17 to declare 13 more river basins in drought.  The new declarations bring the total of river basins in Washington in drought emergencies to 24 of the state’s 62 watersheds.

Almost half of the state is under a drought declaration since the governor’s first declaration for  three regions on March 13.

The April 17 declarations qualified the 13 river basins or Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIA's) for drought relief funds.  As of April 17, Ecology’s request for a $9 million drought relief appropriation was still pending in the Legislature.

The drought relief declarations would provide funds for:

Not everyone in the drought declared basins will be affected by water shortages

April 17 Declared Basins
Map of Drought Declaration areas

The 13 WRIAs, by number and location, declared in drought April 17 were:

WRIAs in Western Washington

WRIAs in Central Washington

March 13, 2015
Governor declared drought in three regions

March 13 Declared Basins
Map of Drought Declaration areas

Governor Jay Inslee declared a drought on March 13 in three regions of Washington state.


This opened up funding opportunities to address hardships from drought conditions in areas of the state experiencing record low snowpack.

The March 13 drought declaration regions were:

  1. The east slope of the Central Cascades including the Upper and Lower Yakima, Naches, Wenatchee and Entiat river watersheds.
  2. The Walla Walla River watershed including portions of Walla Walla and Columbia counties.
  3. The Olympic Peninsula,  primarily in Jefferson and Clallam counties.  Specific watersheds include the Quilcene-Snow, Elwha-Dungeness, Lyre-Hoko, Sol Duc-Hoh and Queets-Quinault.