Drought officially returns to Western Washington

Streams are dropping, July could be a scorcher and drought has officially returned to Western Washington.

Looking at all that, the Department of Ecology may issue for the first time a drought advisory, an early warning to be careful with water.

Ecology drought coordinator Jeff Marti said it’s much to expect summer rains to reverse the trend toward lower flows. “I think our hydrological fate has been set for the summer,” he said.

Ecology hosted a conference call Friday with resource agencies and water managers from around the state. The consensus was that stream and rivers are largely OK now, but generally will be running far below normal by the end of the summer.

The state’s summer water supply appeared well stocked in April. May, however, was the second warmest and 12th driest on record. Streams that were swelled by rain and melting snow in the spring are falling.

Right now, Western Washington is the dry side of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday categorized 12 percent of the state in a moderate drought, the first time this year any part of the state has been considered to be in a drought. The drought covers all or parts of 11 westside counties south of Seattle.

Most of Eastern Washington remains far from drought conditions.

Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond said Friday he expects the rest of the summer to be warmer than usual, though not as hot as 2015, the last year Washington declared a drought emergency.

Climate conditions resemble 1994, he said, a year the state went through a record-setting heat wave in late July.

Looking farther ahead, fall is more likely to be dry than wet, and the chances of an El Nino forming by winter are increasing, Bond said. The El Nino, a warming of ocean temperatures, is likely to be weak or moderate, he said.

“It’ll probably be enough to have some influence on our water later in the year,” Bond said. “That’s generally bad news for our snowpack.”

Yakima Valley farmers with junior water rights were expected to get full water supplies in May, but that figure was adjusted downward to 96 percent in early June. The Bureau of Reclamation will revise the forecast in early July.

Reclamation hydrologist Chris Lynch said he expected another revision, but not enough to affect crop production.

“It demonstrates were in a minor shortage as far as full entitlements go,” he said.

Ecology decided to issue drought advisories to alert farmers and others that more severe shortages could be developing, Marti said.

“Our options have been ‘no drought’ and then an ‘emergency.’ We wanted a middle option that was less dramatic than an ‘emergency,’” he said.

If conditions harden into a drought, Ecology will be able to authorize farmers to use emergency drought wells. The department, however, has no money for drought-relief projects.

“The ability for the state to provide any monetary assistance is pretty doubtful,” Marti said.

Ecology will consult with other state agencies before issuing a drought advisory.