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2010 Drought

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

Ecology drought response committee continues to monitor water supplies in Washington

The Department of Ecology and members of the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) continue to monitor extremely dry conditions in certain parts of the state following the August 28, 2014, WSAC meeting.  The committee of state and federal agencies monitors snowpack and water supply conditions and advises the Governor on the need for a drought declaration when dry conditions persist.  The August 28 meeting was the fourth for WSAC this year and members have agreed to meet again October 31.

Dry conditions and forecasts causing concern in Washington state

As of mid-September, no area of the state is being considered for a drought declaration under criteria outlined in state law.  No public water systems or private well owners are reporting water supply problems to the state Department of Health due to drought conditions.

However, the following conditions and forecasts are causing WSAC concern and merit further monitoring of water supplies in certain areas:

  • “Abnormally dry” conditions persist over much of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, but river conditions are within the normal range, thanks to normal or above normal snowpack conditions from last winter.
  • The exception  is streams and rivers originating in the Olympic Mountains.  The Olympics, which are lower elevation than the Cascades, never fully recovered from having a lower than average snowpack as reflected in low stream flows, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
  • The Makah Indian Tribe performed a fish salvage operation in early September to rescue salmon in the Big River near Lake Ozette.
  • Managers of some FERC-licensed dams are requesting permission to lower their outflows so more water will be available later this fall to maintain spawning habitat.
  • Year-to-date precipitation is 50 to 70 percent of normal in the eastern Washington Columbia Basin and on the Olympic Peninsula.
  • The National Weather Service is reporting a 65 to 70 percent chance of a weak-to-moderate El Nino weather pattern which potentially could bring one of the warmest autumns in years to the Pacific Northwest and warmer, wetter weather in the form of rain, not snow, in the spring of 2015.

Indicators of adequate water supplies

Indications of adequate water supplies in the state include:

  • The average 7-day stream flow statewide is in the normal range.
  • The timing of the snowmelt has been near 30-year averages   in 2014 which has meant normal stream flows in most areas of the state.
  • Runoff for the Yakima Basin has been higher than the runoff forecast, in part due to some summer rain near the reservoirs.
  • Although demand for water from reservoirs in Eastern Washington was higher than normal this summer due to warm temperatures, decent reservoir carryover, about 115 percent of average, is expected for the irrigation season in 2015.

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.

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.

Drought and water supply information

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



Washington Water Supply Information

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


Legislative Reports