Friday, December 13, 2019

Let it snow!

Winter at Palouse Falls (Credit: Randy Bradbury, Dept. of Ecology)

More than half of the state's water supply starts out as snowpack, which is why it is so important to keep an eye on it—not just for ski conditions, but as part of our drought monitoring.

Snowpack coverage is 28% for Washington on Dec. 9, 2019
(Credit: USDA)
We started this week with snowpack at 28% of normal for this time of year, and after a little bit of snow, it’s at 36% as of Dec. 13. The increase is welcome since NOAA’s latest monthly climate report listed November as the fifth driest for Washington since 1895. According to Karin Bumbaco, assistant state climatologist, it is especially concerning that November was so dry since it’s usually one of our wetter months of the year.

“Snowpack is just as, if not more, important than just rainfall because it delivers benefits long after the storm has passed,” said Jeff Marti, Ecology’s water supply specialist.

Last year at this time we were at 59% of normal snowpack, and this past spring Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency.

The level of snowpack isn’t the only reason we issue a drought declaration. In fact, in Washington, we have a legal definition of drought that is based on water availability. There are two factors we consider before an emergency drought declaration to be made:

  • Water supply conditions, such as streamflow levels, are currently or projected to be at or below 75 percent of average, and
  • There is potential for undue hardships to water users and uses

Naches River during drought conditions in 2019
(Credit: Dept. of Ecology)
When these conditions occur, we can declare a drought emergency. This designation allows us to expedite emergency water right permitting. For instance, one farmer may lease water to another farmer and we can expedite that transfer. It also empowers our partner state agencies and local conservation and irrigation districts to provide a range of emergency services

Additionally, the declaration allows us to make funds available to address hardships caused by drought conditions. This year, our grant program provided $688k to help communities around the state with drought response.

At this time, there is no designation that exists describing a milder status, such as an advisory, though we have recommended to the Legislature that such authority be granted.

Our suggestion? Add “more snow” to your holiday wish list!

By Keeley Belva, Communications Manager, Water Resources Program

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