The Washington State Department of Ecology has declared a state-wide drought emergency, in advance of the hotter and drier months coming this year.

Lack of snowpack is a key issue

Washington's winter was fairly dry, and while February, March, and April saw some increases in the snowpack, the DOE finds it isn't enough for the year's water needs.

As of the drought declaration on April 16, statewide snowpack is at 68%. Streamflows are already below 75% of normal in many basins:

  • Chelan River predicted to be 52% of normal rates
  • Stehekin, Methow, and Okanagan rivers predicted at 59% of normal rates
  • Olympic Mountains, Lower Yakima, and north Puget Sound have significantly lower snowpack than average

Hot and dry seasons expected

The remainder of the year is forecast to be warmer and drier than average throughout Washington State. As NPR and the National Weather Service reported:

For May - July, seasonal temperature has a 40-50% chance of temperatures being higher, and a 33-50% chance of less precipitation (with the north-eastern and eastern portion of the state being the most affected).

For August - October, temperature has a 33-60% chance of being hotter (with only the most northwestern corner of the state being in the low portion of that range), with precipitation currently expected to be on average.

Drought Declaration Map, Washington 2024
Washington State Department of Ecology

Drought reponse grants available now

The Department of Ecology is making $4.5 million available in drought response grants to qualifying entities to respond to the impact of the drought conditions. The early declaration allows the state to develop a drought response and get funds quickly where they are needed most, as well as process emergency water rights permits and transfers.

Laura Watson, DOE's director, noted that “By moving quickly to declare a drought, we can begin delivering financial support to water systems with drought impacts, and work with water users to find solutions to challenges before they become a crisis."

The drought poses a significant impact on agriculture, habitat, fish, and wildlife.

Drought extension and range

This drought declaration is an extension of 2023's emergency declaration, which would have ended this June. The declaration will extend drought response into next year.

The state must be at less than 75% of normal water supply levels, with the risk of undue hardship.

Limited areas in Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett are excluded from the new declaration, as their water management systems have made them more drought-reliant.

► Read more drought news on PNWAg

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Gallery Credit: Jaime Skelton

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