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A colder and wetter than normal latter part of March, all of April and first half of May have reversed the trend of diminishing snowpack in Washington state and reduced the threat of drought in most areas of the state.
Until the latter part of March, a warmer than normal winter had caused lower elevation precipitation to fall as rain as opposed to snow. Now a cold and wet spring is keeping statewide snowpack around longer than normal. In some cases the snowpack has continued to modestly build as opposed to melting off.
While the total volume of snow received for the water year (October 1 - September 30) is lower than normal almost everywhere except the Olympic Peninsula, current statewide snowpack as a whole is now about 100 percent of average for this time of year. The Olympic Peninsula, the Spokane basin and areas north of Spokane along the Canadian border as well as the southeastern corner of Washington state are all experiencing 150 percent of normal snowpack for this time of year.
Flows in the Walla Walla basin, previously a concern, have rebounded, reducing the concerns of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife about fish passage problems. In the Yakima basin, an area that can quickly drain a drought account during a significant water shortage, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has increased the projected water supply for proratable districts from 71 percent a month ago to 78 percent of entitlements now (no real shortage in other words).
A series of late spring storms improved the summer stream flow outlook for most of Washington’s river basins. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, statewide the May-September stream flow forecasts vary from 112 percent of average for the Elwha River to 47 percent of average for the Spokane River.
Two federal entities issue monthly and mid-monthly forecasts about summer streamflows. Since mid-March, those forecasts have been getting modestly better.
Western Washington stream flow forecasts include:
Eastern Washington stream flow forecasts include:
The National Weather Service is currently forecasting chances for a continued colder and wetter May followed by a warmer than normal summer with equal chances for greater or less than normal precipitation.
Given the improvement and the lack of any undue hardship (the second necessary component of a drought declaration in addition to less than 75 percent of normal supply), at this point it does not appear a drought emergency declaration will be necessary in any area of the state. This appears to be the third time in the past decade in which a wet spring has bailed Washington state out of a dry winter.
The two committees which advise Gov. Chris Gregoire on drought emergency declarations will meet one more time after the final June 1 water supply forecast is prepared. If the current situation holds, the Department of Ecology will stand down the committees in June but will continue to monitor the situation through the fall.
Approximately three months ago the state began a formal process of monitoring drought conditions due to a significantly lower than normal snowpack. Two committees were formed and convened: the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) and the Executive Water Emergency Committee (EWEC). The WSAC and EWEC met jointly every two weeks since February, the last meeting occurred Friday, May 7th. The two committees which advise Gov. Chris Gregoire on drought emergency declarations will meet one more time after the final June 1, 2010 water supply forecast is prepared. If the current situation holds, the Department of Ecology will stand down the committees in June but will continue to monitor the situation through the fall.
The 2010 Legislature approved $4.2 million in dedicated funding for a 2010 emergency drought response. Only a drought emergency declaration authorized by Gov. Chris Gregoire and issued by the director of Ecology can trigger release of the drought relief funds. If no drought emergency is declared, the $4.2 million requested from the Legislature for drought relief projects will not be spent for any other purpose.
Two criteria must exist before the committees recommend that the governor authorize Ecology to issue a drought emergency declaration anywhere in the state:::
Once these conditions are met, a drought emergency declaration could be issued to free up state relief funds. The money can be used only for drought relief in the form of grants or loans for more than 30 types of projects including drinking water supply improvements, purchasing or leasing water rights for use during a drought, and augmenting stream flows for fish through the transfer of groundwater rights.
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