Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Drought committee adds to list of areas at risk for water shortages

By Dan Partridge, communications manager, Water Resources Program  
This week six more river basins were added to Washington’s red zone of watersheds at risk of water shortages because of declining snowpack. That brings the total to 40 out of 62 designated watersheds in our state in the red zone. 

The Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) chaired by Ecology’s drought coordinator Jeff Marti determined that water supplies are at 75 percent of normal or below in these watersheds:  
  • The Skokomish-Dosewallips basin in Jefferson County
  • Alkali-Squilchuck basin in Kittitas County
  • Chelan basin in Chelan County 
  • The Okanogan basin in Okanogan County
  • Lower and Middle Snake River basins in Columbia County

Available water supply is only half of a drought declaration   

This means these watersheds have met one of two criteria for a drought declaration. Under state law, an area must be at 75 percent of normal water supply or below and water users in that area must be experiencing or expected to experience hardships because of water shortages.

In March, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought in three regions:
  • The Olympic Peninsula, primarily in Jefferson and Clallam counties
  • The East side of the Central Cascades including Yakima and Wenatchee
  • The Walla Walla Basin.
A declaration from the governor qualifies a region for drought relief funds. Ecology has requested $9 million from the Legislature to provide drought relief and technical assistance in any area declared to be in a drought emergency in 2015.

Water allocations drop for Yakima Basin irrigators

As much as $4 million of that money may be used in the Yakima Basin to boost water allocations for some irrigators. Earlier this week, the Bureau of Reclamation told farmers holding junior water rights that because of the drought they may be receiving only 60 percent of their water allocations during the irrigation season.

Lack of snowpack is the primary cause of Washington's drought. Currently, snowpack statewide is only 22 percent of normal, worse than at this time in 2005 when the last statewide drought was declared.

In normal years, snowpack is like a frozen reservoir that melts slowly in the spring and summer providing run-off that feeds our streams and rivers.

Recommendations of the WSAC on which areas of our state should be considered for a drought declaration based on hardships will be passed on to the governor’s Emergency Water Executive Committee. That committee will meet next week to advise Gov. Inslee on what additional drought declarations are warranted in Washington. 

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