Washington looks to fund drought-relief projects

The Washington Department of Ecology began taking applications Tuesday from irrigation districts, conservation districts and other public bodies to relieve drought hardships.

Ecology has $2 million to distribute before the end of the summer. Agencies in watersheds where drought has been declared can apply for up to $350,000 to benefit crops and livestock, but must match the grant dollar for dollar.

Agriculture-related projects such as leasing water, deepening wells, installing pumps, and repairing leaky pipes or canals could qualify, according to Ecology.

Agencies with projects to help city water systems, and fish and wildlife also are eligible to apply. Projects must be a cost-effective and effective response to a hardship caused by this drought, according to Ecology.

So far, Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a drought emergency in 27 watersheds. The watersheds are expected to have drought-related problems and less than 75 percent of normal water supplies during all or part of the summer.

Most of the watersheds are west of the Cascades, though some are in Eastern Washington. Ecology will convene a meeting of water-supply managers from throughout the state on Friday to review whether more watersheds are facing shortages.

The drought declaration could be expanded later this month.

According to the federal U.S. Drought Monitor, Washington is the driest of the West’s 11 states. Some 43% of Washington is in a “moderate drought,” while another 27% is abnormally dry. About 30% is in good shape at the moment.

“We’re coming out of a mediocre snowpack winter with lower-than-normal precipitation,” Ecology drought coordinator Jeff Marti said in a written statement. “We’re seeing some of the driest conditions in the northwest part of the state, while locations in the southeast have experienced recent flood watches.”

Some irrigators with junior water-rights have been curtailed in the Chehalis, Methow and Okanogan watersheds.

Projects will either qualify for money or won’t, according to Ecology. Applicants won’t be competing against each other, and grants will be awarded to eligible projects until the money is gone, according to Ecology.

The watersheds, known as Water Resource Inventory Areas, covered by the drought declaration are:

Chelan, Colville, Cowlitz, Deschutes, Elwha-Dungeness, Entiat, Grays-Elochoman, Kennedy-Goldsborough, Kettle, Lower Chehalis, Lower Skagit-Samish, Lower Yakima, Lyre-Hoko, Methow, Naches, Nooksack, Okanogan, Queets-Quinault, Quilcene-Snow, Skokomish-Dosewallips, Sol Duc-Hoh, Stillaguamish, Upper Chehalis, Upper Skagit, Upper Yakima, Wenatchee and Willapa.

Washington’s last drought emergency was in 2015.