Tuesday, March 11, 2014

As rivers rise, threat of statewide drought recedes

By Dan Partridge, communications manager, Water Resources

Washington likely will dodge a statewide drought this year thanks to substantial snowfall and precipitation in several areas of the state in recent weeks.

From a low of 55 percent the first of February, snowpack has increased to more than 90 percent of average statewide this month, more than 100 percent in northeast Washington and in the Upper and Lower Yakima basins. In the Olympic Mountains, an area of particular concern at the beginning of February, snowpack is more than 80 percent of average.

Despite the improving conditions, the work of the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC), comprised of state and federal agencies that monitor water supplies, isn’t over and the group will meet again in May in another session chaired by Ecology.

While WSAC agreed at its March 7 meeting that a statewide drought isn’t likely there are still dry conditions that persist in certain areas of the state. For example, low soil moisture levels could present problems for agriculture in Lincoln, Douglas and Okanogan counties. Deep frozen soils reduce moisture retention.

Forecasts also show an increased chance of drier-than-normal conditions in April through June, as well as an increased chance of warmer-than-normal temperatures in June through August. The key to adequate water supply will be the manner in which snow melt and spring runoff occurs.

Ecology was seeking drought relief funds from the Legislature this year, but new funds will not be available because the Legislature did not pass a supplemental capital budget. Fortunately, widespread problems from drought are not anticipated. However, if drought conditions impact a specific area of the state and a drought emergency is declared, Ecology will evaluate funding options to provide relief but will likely need to rely on other tools to help water users adapt to water shortages, such as expedited emergency water right permitting and water right transfers.

Ecology's Drought Information Web page provides a clearinghouse of information on water supply issues in Washington state.

No comments: