Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Watching the water supply

This blog post is part of an ongoing series about water supply conditions. Please click here to read the previous post. If you want to learn more, visit our Washington water supply information page.

Did you grab a jacket or sweater while celebrating the Fourth of July? The weather felt different from last year for lots of folks across the state. Our water supply situation is different, too.

In summer 2015, we were in the midst of a drought emergency. This winter, plenty of snow and rain helped reduce impacts from the drought, but a hot and dry spring concerned experts. Luckily, the recent run of normal-ish temperatures and precipitation have improved our statewide water supplies.

Status of our supplies

Here’s the latest on our water supply conditions as of July 6:

Weather impacts | Over the past two weeks, precipitation has been about normal statewide – within 1.5 inches of average. But the coast and northeast parts of the state, already dry from spring, have stayed on the below-average side.

Average statewide temperatures for the past 14 days have stayed within 0 to 4 degrees above normal. Water use is declining due to more moderate temperatures compared to last month. In Seattle, the city’s public utility reports that daily demand is down nearly 50 million gallons per day from last year.

This USGS map compares current (July 6) and historical stream flows in
Washington. Click here to see more.
Rivers and streams | Rivers are naturally at their lowest flows during summer, but our rivers are experiencing – and will continue to experience – the effect of drier-than-normal spring weather and rapid snowpack melt. Statewide, about 58 percent of rivers are below average. This is an improvement over the beginning of June, when 77 percent were below average. (This doesn’t mean river flows are getting higher. Rather, compared to the same time of year for the period of record, we are closer to average now than we were in early June.) Looking back, 79 percent of our rivers were below normal last year around this time.
Agriculture | The Bureau of Reclamation manages several large reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin, an important agricultural center, and releases forecasts of how much water farmers can expect from those reservoirs. Currently, the areas with junior water rights are expecting 86 percent. Last year, they were at 47 percent. Senior water right holders are expecting a full forecast.

Managers of sockeye salmon fisheries are closely watching water
temperatures. Photo: William Meyers/WDFW
Fish | River temperatures are on the rise, but we’re still better off than last year, when sockeye salmon and sturgeon mortalities were being reported. This year, enough sockeye have entered the Columbia River and migrated upstream from McNary Dam for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to open sockeye fisheries. Due to the debilitating losses of almost all spawning sockeye in the Okanogan River in 2015, fisheries managers are proceeding conservatively until it’s confirmed enough spawning fish make it into the Wenatchee and Okanogan rivers. As the run progresses upriver, sockeye seasons above Priest Rapids Dam are likely as long as water temperatures stay cool. Anglers should visit WDFW's website for more information.  

Drinking water | Drinking water supplies are not currently projected to be affected by shortages. Contact your local municipal water system to learn more.

What’s next

Tomorrow, the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) will hold its monthly meeting. This committee is a team of experts from state and national agencies who review data and discuss potential water shortages. If conditions warrant, this committee can convene the Executive Water Emergency Committee (EWEC), which is made of state agency leaders with a stake in water supplies. These leaders assess findings from WSAC and determine whether water users in affected areas will likely incur undue hardships. EWEC can recommend the governor consider an emergency drought declaration.

How you can help

Outdoor water use accounts for nearly a third of daily water use by U.S. households. You can conserve water – and save money – by making a few tweaks to your outdoor routine:

  • Purchase an inexpensive hose timer to avoid over-watering. Soaker hoses are also a great option for avoiding evaporation.
  • Use a broom or electric blower to clean driveways and sidewalks, rather than hosing them off.

For more tips, visit our water conservation page

By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, Water Resources Program communications manager

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