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2010 Drought

Upper Quinault Basin - Low winter snow levels affect summer water levels

Statewide drought unlikely but some areas at risk for water shortages as low snowpack, warm temperatures are forecast for March

The Department of Ecology is preparing to respond to drought emergencies in 2015 as snowpack is significantly below normal in the Olympic and Cascade mountains and warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected to continue through March.

Mountain snowpack is a critically important water supply for many areas of the state.  The snowpack is a frozen reservoir that accumulates through the winter and then feeds the state’s rivers and streams through the spring and summer.  The winter of 2014-15, however, has been unusually warm with most precipitation falling as rain.

Ecology has requested funds from the 2015 session of the Washington Legislature to respond to drought emergencies should they occur this year.  For those suffering hardships from water shortages, Ecology provides technical expertise and financial help in the form of loans and grants for uses such as:

  • Drilling emergency wells or deepening existing wells for cities, farms and fish hatcheries.
  • Leasing water rights for stream flows.
  • Construction of pumps, pipelines and measuring devices that provide immediate drought relief.

Ecology has also convened monthly meetings of the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC), a group of state and federal agencies that monitor water supplies in Washington state.  WSAC agencies include the National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Office of the state Climatologist, the Washington state Department of Fish & Wildlife and the state Department of Health.

Water supply conditions and forecasts Water supply information provided by WSAC members shows the following conditions as of the end of February:

  • February snowfall did not provide significant gains in snowpack as occurred in 2014.  The Olympics were at 4 percent of normal snowpack; Central Puget Sound (Snohomish, Green-Duwamish, Cedar-Sammamish) at 9 percent.
  • The City of Seattle has its water supply in the Central Puget Sound and has been filling its reservoir early.  The city does not anticipate any water supply issues for municipal customers this year.
  • The Yakima Basin was in better shape in February, with slightly better snowpack and reservoir storage near capacity, as compared to February 2005 when the last statewide drought was declared in Washington.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation is scheduled to release its water supply forecast for the Yakima Basin on March 9.  At that time it will be determined if holders of junior water rights (with priority dates after May 10, 1905) will receive their full allocations of irrigation water.
  • Water supplies for the Columbia River main stem are projected to be at 89 percent of average for the irrigation season.
  • The Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership is preparing for drought conditions and counting on state assistance with water right leasing if necessary.
  • Some managers of hydropower dams licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are taking steps to consult with resource managers regarding the need for modifications of instream flow releases this summer.
  • The Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  is forecasting a warmer and drier than normal spring with higher than normal temperatures continuing until the fall of 2015.  This would mean early snowmelt this spring and low stream flows in the summer and fall.

Information on water supplies and forecasts for drought in your area

  • WASC will meet again March 10.  For more information see: Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) - Meeting agenda and presentations
  • For information on water supply monitoring and forecasts done by WASC members go to Washington Water Supply Information.
  • Ecology and WASC at this time are not anticipating widespread water shortages in Washington in 2015.
  • Contact your nearest Ecology office if you have questions and concerns about water supplies in your area.

The process of a drought declaration

Under state law Ecology may declare a drought emergency if it determines 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.  The geographical area designated for drought funding must be specified./p>

Unlike most states, Washington has a statutory 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:

  • An area has to be experiencing or projected to experience a water supply that is below 75 percent of normal, and
  • Water users within those areas will likely incur undue hardships as a result of the shortage.

Once Ecology declares a drought at the direction of the Governor, Ecology can provide drought relief in the form of loans and grants for uses such as:

  • Drilling emergency wells or deepening existing wells for cities, farms and fish hatcheries.
  • Leasing water rights for stream flows.
  • Construction of pumps, pipelines and measuring devices that provide immediate drought relief.

On January 21, 2015 Ecology's Jeff Marti presented the Department of Ecology Drought Planning Update to the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee. Here is a copy of the presentation:

Drought and water supply information

You can find additional drought and water supply information at the following links:

 

Spotlight

Formula for drought: Warm winters with rain, little snow - ECOconnect 02/10/2015

Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) - Meeting agenda and presentations

Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) Summary Report - October 31, 2014

Washington Water Supply Information - Portal

Drought Insurance Program (DIP) "The legislature tasked OCR with reducing drought risk for interruptible water users"

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Legislative Reports