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Washington Drought Watch 2016

Last revised: July 11, 2016

Watching the water supply

The weather on Independence Day felt downright chilly compared to last year for many folks across the state, but the moderate conditions are helping the state’s water supplies.

The status of our water supplies was the focus of the July 7 Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) meeting.  This committee is a team of experts from state and national agencies who meet monthly to review data and discuss potential water shortages.  While there are dry areas, WSAC concluded that statewide supply conditions are OK and decided not to convene the Executive Water Emergency Committee (EWEC).  EWEC is made of state agency leaders with a stake in water supplies and they can recommend that the governor consider an emergency drought declaration.

WSAC will meet again on August 11, 2016.

Here’s a look at water supply conditions as of July 6:

Status of supplies

Weather impacts | Over the past two weeks, precipitation has been about normal statewide – within 1.5 inches of average.  But the coast and northeast parts of the state, already dry from spring, have stayed on the below-average side.  Average statewide temperatures for the past 14 days have stayed within 0 to 4 degrees above normal.  Water use is declining due to more moderate temperatures compared to last month.  In Seattle, the city’s public utility reports that daily demand is down nearly 50 million gallons per day from last year.

Rivers and streams | Rivers are naturally at their lowest flows during summer, but our rivers are experiencing – and will continue to experience – the effect of drier-than-normal spring weather and rapid snowpack melt. Statewide, about 58 percent of rivers are below average.  This is an improvement over the beginning of June, when 77 percent were below average.  (This doesn’t mean river flows are getting higher. Rather, compared to the same time of year for the period of record, we are closer to average now than we were in early June.)  Looking back, 79 percent of our rivers were below normal last year around this time.

Agriculture | The Bureau of Reclamation manages several large reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin, an important agricultural center, and releases forecasts of how much water farmers can expect from those reservoirs.  Currently, the areas with junior water rights are expecting 90 percent.  Last year, they were at 47 percent. Senior water right holders are expecting a full forecast.

Fish | River temperatures are on the rise, but we’re still better off than last year, when sockeye and sturgeon mortalities were being reported.  This year, enough sockeye have entered the Columbia River and migrated upstream from McNary Dam for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to open sockeye fisheries.  Due to the debilitating losses of almost all spawning sockeye in the Okanogan River in 2015, fisheries managers are proceeding conservatively until it’s confirmed enough spawning fish make it into the Wenatchee and Okanogan rivers.  As the run progresses upriver, sockeye seasons above Priest Rapids Dam are likely as long as water temperatures stay cool.  Anglers should visit WDFW's website for more information.

Drinking water | Drinking water supplies are not currently projected to be affected by shortages.  Contact your local municipal water system to learn more.

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