Friday, June 17, 2016

Watching the water supply

As the recent cool-down gives way to warmer, drier summer weather, we are closely monitoring our water supplies. Last year, a lack of snowpack and spring rain led to a drought that had statewide impacts. This year, our water supplies are currently stronger across the state but we’re watching areas of concern.

There are two groups that keep close tabs on our state’s water supply. The Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) is a team of experts from state and national agencies who meet monthly to review data and discuss potential water shortages. If challenging conditions are identified or projected, they will bring the information to the Executive Water Emergency Committee (EWEC). This committee is made of state agency leaders with a stake in water supplies (Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, etc.). These leaders assess findings from WSAC and determine whether water users within affected areas will likely incur undue hardships.

At its meeting in early June, EWEC did not issue an emergency drought recommendation to the governor, which they did in 2015. The group discussed areas of concern and will continue to monitor water supplies. They will meet again should conditions change.

To help keep you informed, we’ll be sharing regular water supply updates on this blog. (Click here to read an earlier post on this topic.)

Status of our supplies

Here’s a look at water supply conditions as of June 17:

Paradise on Mt. Rainier received a few inches of snow this week, but most mountain snowpack monitoring stations are currently snow-free.
Paradise on Mt. Rainier received a few inches of snow
this week (June 7 top; June 14 below), but 
most mountain
snowpack monitoring  stations are 
currently snow-free.
Photos: National Park  Service 
Weather impacts | Cooler, wetter weather helped improve river flows in on the west side of the state where spring rains were in short supply this year. Today, about 56 percent of stream gauges are at below-normal levels. A couple weeks ago, about 75 percent of our gauges were below normal. The eastern side of the state did not benefit as much from rain. Rivers fed by melting snow (the Methow, Wenatchee and Okanogan rivers, for example) were running high due to early melt but are now below normal. While snow fell at higher elevations this week, most of our snowpack monitoring stations are currently snow-free.

Agriculture | The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manages several large reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin, an important agricultural center, to help farmers irrigate through the dry summer months. As of Saturday, the Bureau began releasing water – about a week earlier than average – from the reservoirs to downstream irrigators. Last year, this action began in mid-April. The Yakima reservoirs are fuller this year – at 98 percent capacity.

Drinking water | Drinking water supplies are in good shape and aren’t currently projected to be affected by shortages. Contact your local municipal water system for information specific to your community.
Cle Elum Lake is a reservoir managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Cle Elum Lake is a reservoir managed by the U.S. Bureau 
of Reclamation.  

More information | Visit our Washington water supply information page to read about streamflow, snowpack, precipitation, forecasts and more. 

Focus on fish

Fishery populations across the state face challenges again this year. Low flows in some streams and rivers are stressing migrating juvenile salmon, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery teams are already responding to warm water conditions. Water temperatures in the Columbia River are higher than average, even exceeding 2015 temperatures on some days earlier this spring. WDFW staff remain on alert for low-flow fish migration blockages and high water temperatures as we move into July.

How you can help

Water is a shared resource and we all have a responsibility to protect it. Here are two easy water conservation tips you can use at home:
  • About 30 percent of our water use across the state goes to outdoor watering. When planting your landscape, consider drought-tolerant native plants and check to see a plant’s watering needs before you schedule your sprinklers.
  • You can significantly reduce water use by simply repairing leaks in fixtures (faucets and showerheads), pipes and toilets. A leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period of time. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons per day. That would be like flushing your toilet more than 50 times for no reason!
Check out this page for more tips.

By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, Water Resources Program communications manager

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