The Washington Department of Ecology declared a drought emergency for a large majority of the state on July 14, including the entirety of southern Washington and leaving out only Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma metropolitan areas.
State ecology officials cited a historically dry spring and summer, followed by a record-breaking heatwave that affected water supplies, as the prompt for the emergency declaration in a news release.
The drought emergency declaration means water supply is projected to be below 75 percent of average, and there is a risk of undue hardship to water users and uses, according to the announcement.
“Farmers’ crops are failing and ranchers are losing livestock because of these dry conditions, extreme heat, and lack of water,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in the July 14 announcement. “We’re experiencing more droughts in our state as the climate warms. These dry conditions, combined with scorching heat, are putting our way of life at risk. We must continue to act on climate change to protect our state.”
According to the announcement, a formal drought declaration authorizes Department of Ecology to take certain measures for the purpose of providing emergency drought relief, including expediting processing for emergency drought permits, processing temporary transfers of water rights, providing funding assistance for public entities, and holding public education workshops.
A recent heat dome sent state thermometers skyrocketing, measuring record-high triple-digit temperatures, and according to Ecology, worsened drought conditions.
“We’re now in the literal heat of summer and the driest time of year,” said Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson. “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.”
On July 15, the U.S. Drought Monitor put the eastern portion of Klickitat County, along with the rest of Eastern Washington, in extreme drought conditions, the second-most extreme drought measurements made by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Franklin County is in exceptional drought conditions, the most extreme drought measurement possible.
Inslee cited the drought conditions and record-breaking heat to declare a statewide emergency on wildfires earlier this month.