By Marcy Stamper
Although the Methow River watershed is still registering fairly normal seasonal readings for snowpack and water levels, the Okanogan River basin was included on the latest drought declaration for the state issued by Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday (April 17).
The 13 watersheds on the expanded list mean the drought emergency covers almost half of the state. Twenty-four of the state’s 62 watersheds meet the state’s legal definition of a drought — having a water supply below 75 percent of normal, or projected to fall below that level. A drought also means water users will probably incur hardships.
The first drought emergency declared in March included 11 river basins, in both eastern and western Washington. Many watersheds on the east slope of the Cascades, including the Wenatchee and Entiat river basins, were included in the first emergency. All the river basins in Chelan County are now on the drought list.
On a map that shows the severity of the drought across the state, the Methow Valley is a small, as-yet-unaffected sliver between officially drought-stricken regions to the west — in Whatcom and Skagit counties — and the east.
Snow depth at Harts Pass as of this week was still 71 inches, with a snow-water equivalency of 102 percent of normal — the only reading at or above normal in the entire state, according to the National Water and Climate Center maintained by the
Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Statewide, the snowpack is just 24 percent of normal, worse than it was during the last statewide drought 10 years ago, according to the governor’s office. Run-off from snowmelt for April through September is expected to be the lowest on record for the past 64 years.
Being on the drought list qualifies the affected river basins to apply for drought-relief funds from the Washington Department of Ecology. These funds can be used to mitigate effects on fish habitat and to help farmers who rely on surface water for irrigation. There is also help for public water supplies that draw on surface water or shallow wells.
Ecology has requested $9 million from the Legislature for drought relief.
While areas in western Washington — including typically wet regions like the Olympic Peninsula — are also experiencing drought conditions, large municipal systems in Seattle and Tacoma are expected to have adequate water for the summer.