OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee expanded his drought declaration on Friday to include 44 percent of the state’s landmass. Grant County still managed to avoid inclusion.
“The Columbia Basin, at this time, is doing really well at managing their water supply,” said Jaclyn Hancock, a hydrogeologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, adding that stakeholders in the area haven’t yet raised many concerns.
Grant County could still be added to the drought declaration in coming months, however. State officials said they are continuing to monitor the situation and the Emergency Water Executive Committee could declare a statewide drought when they meet in May.
“We will consider at that time whether we will consider a statewide drought,” said Maia Bellon, the director of the Washington State Department of Ecology. “I think it’s possible, very possible.”
The drought expansion comes with statewide snowpack measurements remaining only 24 percent of normal, less than in 2005 when the last statewide drought was declared. The snowmelt provided by snowpack is important for both farms and fish in the state.
“We’ve never experienced a drought like this before,” Bellon said. “It’s not for lack of rain, but for lack of snowpack.”
The original drought declaration expected 11 watersheds would experience hardship, the new declaration expands that number to 24. Although there was some snowfall this month, Bellon said more was lost than gained, and the situation isn’t expected to improve.
“The long range forecasts call for dryer, warmer weather conditions,” Bellon said. “Conditions are expected to get worse.”
For the average citizen, Ginny Stearn, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Health, said the most effective strategies could differ depending on the region, but general conservation measures are helpful.
“Use only the water you need,” Stearn said. “Use it smartly.”
The snowpack levels are projected to be the lowest they’ve been in 64 years.
“This is an ongoing emergency and we’re going to have some long, hard months ahead of us,” said Inslee in a released statement. “We’re moving quickly so we’re prepared to provide relief to farms and fish this summer.”
The state Department of Ecology looks at two triggers before declaring a drought. One, whether an area is experiencing 75 percent or less of a normal water supply and, two, whether the area is at risk of experiencing hardship.
“Our primary hardship concerns are water for agriculture and water for fish,” Bellon said. “We aren’t experiencing many of those hardships today.”
The state Department of Ecology requested $9 million from the legislature to fund drought response measures.
Jacob Rummel is an intern reporter from the state capitol through the Murrow News Service.