By Ann McCreary
The Methow River basin will be considered for a drought declaration this week, after falling below 75 percent of normal water supply.
Almost half the state’s river basins are now in a declared drought emergency, as the water supply outlook rivals some of the worst drought years in six decades.
“Our snowpack is actually worse at this time of year than it was in 2005, when the last statewide drought was declared, and stream flows are lower than they were at this time of year in 2005,” said Dan Partridge, communications manager for the water resources program at the state Department of Ecology.
“Almost half the state is declared drought — 24 out of 62 watersheds,” Partridge said.
Ten more watersheds, including the Methow River watershed, were recommended last week to be considered for drought declaration by the state water supply availability committee, a multi-agency group that evaluates water supplies and drought conditions.
The recommendations will go to a governor’s advisory committee today (May 13) and will be sent on to the governor this week, Partridge said.
Two components are required for a drought declaration: a basin water supply must be at 75 percent of normal or below; and people, farms, and fish are expected to experience undue hardship because of the reduced water supply.
Snowpack, the predictor of water supplies, is at 16 percent of normal statewide. The run-off from snowmelt for April through September is projected to be the lowest on record in the past 64 years, according to a drought update from Ecology.
A record warm rainy season (October through March) caused the majority of precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow in the mountains throughout the state, according to the Office of the State Climatologist.
Statewide, the average temperature October-March was 40.5 degrees Fahrenheit, 4.7 degrees above the 20th century long-term average and ranking as the warmest October through March on record, according to the climatologist.
Forecasts call for continued above-normal temperatures and near normal precipitation in Washington.
Ecology has requested $9.5 million for drought relief funding, but that request is still in the Legislature’s budget process, Partridge said.
Drought declarations qualify water users for emergency assistance in the form of money and technical assistance for leasing water rights, drilling new wells, deepening existing wells, laying pipes and installing pumps to move water from one location to another, Partridge said.
Relief work has already begun in the Walla Walla, Olympic Peninsula, Dungeness and Yakima river basins, according to Ecology.