Drought Emergency Declared in Washington

Posted Thursday, August 5, 2021

A historically dry spring and summer, followed by a record-breaking heatwave, have affected water supplies across Washington, prompting the Washington Department of Ecology to issue a drought emergency for most of the state. 

The only parts of the state not under the drought declaration are the metropolitan centers of the Puget Sound area — Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett. Skagit PUD expects to have sufficient water storage to meet residential and commercial needs throughout the summer.

In late May, the fourth-driest March through April on record prompted Ecology to issue a drought advisory for 42 counties. Dryness persisted through June. Averaged statewide, March through June precipitation ties 1926 as the second driest such period since 1895. A heat dome in late June brought triple-digit temperatures and smashed records across the state, rapidly worsening drought conditions.

Ecology, along with the departments of Fish and Wildlife, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, are reporting signs of stressed fish; farmers and ranchers are being forced to cut back on irrigation, and wildfires are burning through dry vegetation.

There is little hope for relief before fall. According to the Office of the State Climatologist newsletter, the three-month outlook for July through September shows increased chances of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the entire state.

Ecology Director Laura Watson said Washington’s water supplies face an increasingly uncertain future as the impacts of climate change accumulate.

“We’re now in the literal heat of summer and the driest time of year,” Watson said. “As our climate warms, droughts will be more frequent. Focusing on additional water storage, water efficiency and reuse, and changes in agriculture practices will help Washington be more resilient and protect water for communities, farms, and fish.”

A drought emergency means the water supply is projected to be below 75% of average, and there is a risk of undue hardship to water users and uses.

A formal drought declaration authorizes Ecology to take certain measures to provide emergency drought relief:

  • Expedite processing for emergency drought permits
  • Process temporary transfers of water rights
  • Provide funding assistance for public entities
  • Hold public education workshops