Friday, May 27, 2016

Water supplies in better shape than last year

Lack of rain creating challenges in some parts of state

With summer around the corner and memories of last year’s drought still fresh, many people are curious about the state’s water supply. The good news is we are currently in better shape than last year, but we are closely monitoring parts of our state that are already experiencing challenging conditions.

Remember that spell of what felt like summer weather in April? Those record-warm temperatures led to record melting of our snowpack in the mountains. And we rely on that snowpack to feed many of our rivers and streams.

Snowpack takes a hit

Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains
Photo: National Park Service webcam
On April 1, the state’s snowpack was 111 percent of average! But today it’s 46 percent of average. Compare that to this time last year, when our snowpack was a measly 8 percent of average. We’ve lost a lot of snow the past two months, but we’re still in much better shape than we were at this time last year.

 “This winter, we had good snowpack overall and outstanding snowpack in north and central Washington. Then we lost – and are losing – that snowpack,” said Jeff Marti, environmental planner for the Dept. of Ecology Water Resources Program. “A number of the lower-elevation areas have melted completely. For example, data from the Walla Walla area is showing that it’s melted completely, which is the first area of state to melt. This area does usually melt sooner than other basins, but it’s a couple weeks earlier this year.”

It’s lack of precipitation

Some parts of our state, especially southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula, are experiencing dry conditions and rain-fed streams are being affected. Currently, 62 percent of stream gauges in state rivers are flowing at below-normal levels, mostly on the west side. The city of Forks, usually reliably rainy, is experiencing a 10-inch deficit of precipitation since April 1.

“Last year, we started with a snowpack drought and the watersheds dependent on snow were hurting. Then, in the spring, we dried out and incurred a precipitation-deficit drought. This year, conditions are manifesting with lack of precipitation. So far, conditions on snowpack-fed rivers are OK, but that’s because of the strong snowmelt. Over the next few weeks, our snowmelt rivers will transition from above normal to below normal conditions. They’re going to get lower just like our rain-fed rivers currently are,” Marti said.

Monitoring water supply

We are closely monitoring the state’s water supply and working with people across the state to protect water. While irrigation may be affected as we move into summer, we don’t expect to see any drinking water shortages.

Looking ahead, we are convening water experts in early June to discuss the current supply and whether additional action is needed. Check back to learn about the outcomes of those meetings.

Learn more

To read more about Washington’s water supply conditions, visit our water supply information page.

By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, Water Resources Program communications manager

No comments: