Washington declares drought emergency in 12 counties

By: - July 24, 2023 4:51 pm

A view of the Yakima River. (ECTran71/Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

With much of Washington parched from a warm and dry spring, state officials on Monday announced a drought emergency for watersheds in a dozen counties.

Farmers, fish, and household water customers are all facing difficulties, according to the Department of Ecology. This follows a May and June that Ecology says were the fourth warmest and 11th driest since 1895. The conditions left mountain snowpack diminished as summer arrived.

Counties with watersheds affected by the drought emergency are spread around the state. They include: Benton, Clallam, Columbia, Jefferson, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish, Walla Walla, Whatcom, and Yakima.

“Climate change is making warm, dry summers more frequent, and droughts more severe,” Ria Berns, manager of Ecology’s Water Resources program, said in a statement. “What we’re seeing this year is likely a sign of things to come.”

Ecology said three water systems in Whatcom County’s Nooksack River basin that together serve 346 people were operating on an emergency basis, with at least one trucking in water, another tapping Ferndale’s water supply, and a third on the verge of having to truck water to customers.

Clallam County Public Utility District said earlier this month that it would begin hauling in water by truck for its Island View Water System due to low flows on the creek that feeds it. The system, which serves a subdivision 25 miles east of Neah Bay on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula, has 32 active water accounts.

Irrigators are facing water shortfalls too, with irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin expecting to receive 72% of their full water supply allotments from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Ecology also flagged concerns about fish hatcheries and salmon migration within a number of Olympic Peninsula watersheds, including the Dungeness, Elwha, and Hoh.

The state declares droughts when water supplies drop below 75% of normal and there’s a risk of hardship. Ecology explained that the drought emergency enables the department to process emergency water right permits and transfers.

Outside the counties with the drought emergency declarations, much of the rest of the state is experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions.

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Bill Lucia
Bill Lucia

Bill Lucia is the Standard’s editor-in-chief. He’s covered state and local policy and politics for a decade, nationwide for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and in Seattle for Crosscut.