Friday, May 8, 2015

Glacier lilies bloom in ground normally covered by snowpack

By Dan Partridge, Water Resources communications manager

Glacier lily blooms in
Olympics’ Cox Valley
Glacier lilies are blooming at 4500 feet in the Cox Valley on the Olympic Peninsula where there would normally be about 80 inches of snow this time of year.

Eleven sites statewide where the Natural Resources Conservation Service  measures snowpack are snow free for the first time ever. On May 1,  98 Washington snow sites were measured and 66 of them were snow free.

Important decision coming up next week on state’s expanding drought 

This startling information was shared with the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) today. The committee is comprised of state and federal agency representatives who monitor water supplies and help the Department of Ecology determine what areas of the state are candidates for a possible drought emergency declaration by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The governor has declared a drought emergency in almost half the state and an important decision is coming up next week when the governor’s Emergency Executive Water Committee will advise him on whether to declare a statewide drought emergency.  

Water supply,  hardships determine where drought is declared    

Two criteria must be met before a drought declaration can be issued for an area or region: The snowpack or main water source must be at 75 percent or below normal and water users are experiencing hardships from water shortages or expected to experience hardships.

Once a drought is declared, water users in the area can qualify for drought relief funds. These can be used for drilling water wells, leasing water rights or for acquiring pumps and pipes to move water from one location to another. Ecology’s request for $9.5 million in drought relief funds is under consideration in the special session of the Legislature.  

Just about all our river basins in Washington are at least partially dependent on snowpack for a water supply. In a normal year, snowpack accumulates over the winter and then slowly melts in the spring and summer feeding our rivers and streams, providing water for communities,  irrigation and fish passage.

Statewide snowpack at only 17 percent of normal

This spring snowpack statewide is 17 percent of normal. On the Olympic Peninsula where the glacier lilies bloom, snowpack is only one percent of normal and the snowpack is simply gone in the Central Puget Sound and Upper Yakima Basin.

Impacts from the drought are already severe in several areas. In the Yakima Basin, part of the region the governor declared in drought March 13, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that farmers holding junior water rights will receive only 47 of their normal water allocations.  The Roza Irrigation District that serves junior water right holders has decided to shut down for at least two weeks beginning May 11 to conserve water later in the irrigation season. Ecology is working on a cost sharing plan for acquiring mitigation water that would allow these farmers to use emergency wells for irrigation.  

Low stream flows mean trouble for farmers, fish and small well systems 

Summer and fall forecasts for warmer than normal temperatures and below normal rainfall will only increase the demand for water in Washington at a time when stream flows continue to deteriorate across the state.  The U.S. Geological Survey reports in April, average stream flows statewide were below or much below normal.  Low flows mean trouble for farmers, fish and small community water systems that rely on shallow wells.

The WSAC today determined that in addition to the 24 of Washington’s 62 river basins already declared in drought,  another 10 river basins in our state meet at least half the threshold for a drought declaration. The remainder are on a “watch list,” close to the threshold. Next the  governor’s executive water committee will determine if hardships exist across our state that would justify a statewide drought declaration.  

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