Drought image

2010 Drought

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

Ecology drought response committee to monitor winter water supplies in Washington

The Department of Ecology and members of the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) will monitor water supplies in Washington over the winter and not meet again until February 5, 2015.

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:

Information shared at WSAC’s last meeting of 2014 on Oct. 31 showed:

  • No areas of the state where water supplies were at or below 75 percent of normal, a condition that must be present before an area can be considered for a drought declaration.
  • Washington state precipitation was 3.38 inches below normal for WY 2014 while the average temperature was 1.3 degrees warmer than normal.
  • Average stream flows were much above and above normal statewide.  By  region, stream flows were:
    • Above normal in western Washington
    • Normal in eastern Washington
    • Much above normal on the Olympic Peninsula
  • Water supplies at Bureau of Reclamation projects in the Yakima Basin were in good shape.  Storage in the basin was at 127 percent of average. .

Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC)

Warmer, drier winter in the forecast for Washington state

The Office of the Washington state Climatologist says that climate scientists are expecting a weak El Nino weather pattern this winter, which could bring warmer temperatures and precipitation in the form of rain, not snow, to the Pacific Northwest.  The chance for such an event was revised downward this week from 65 to 58 percent.

The National Weather Service is forecasting an increased chance of warmer than normal temperatures for the winter and increased chances of below normal precipitation through the winter.

Warmer temperatures and precipitation in the form of rain, not snow, could mean diminished accumulations of snowpack.  Under these conditions, irrigation and fish habitat may be at risk of inadequate water supplies in the late summer due to reduced run-off from snowmelt.

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