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Washington State News

The Battle of West and East Sides of Washington in Lifting the State Drought Emergency

(The Center Square) – The drought emergency Gov. Jay Inslee declared on July 14, 2021, has been lifted for most of Washington state, the Joint Legislative Committee on Water Supply During Drought was told during a Tuesday afternoon update on the overall drought condition in the state.

A record-breaking heatwave last year saw almost all of the state – except for the central Puget Sound region – fall under the emergency drought declaration.

“So, we have some news to report on that front, and that is this spring on May 5, the Executive Water Emergency Committee met again to decide what are we going to do with this declaration that’s in effect, set to expire on June 1st,” Jeff Marti, drought coordinator with the state Department of Ecology, said during the virtual meeting.

Marti went on to explain, “And the decision is to lift the declaration for Western Washington. But no surprise to those of you who live on the west side. It’s been a really wet spring. We feel like we’ve gotten our fair share of precipitation.”

May 2022 looks to be one for the record books in the Puget Sound region. Seattle has measured more than double the average rainfall for the month.

While spring rains mean the west side of the state will no longer face drought, things are a little less cut and dry in the eastern portion of the state.

Marti continued, “And to downgrade most of Eastern Washington to Drought Advisory status, where there are areas that are no longer in emergency status but there are still some longer-term precipitation deficits that we want people to be aware of, and to sustain and extend the declaration to our five watersheds in Eastern Washington where the forecasted runoff falls below our statutory drought threshold, which is 75% of normal water supply.”

In other words, the amended declaration lifts the emergency drought declaration for all areas of the state except for five watersheds, or drainage basins, in Eastern Washington.

The five watersheds in parts of North Central and Eastern Washington include portions of Spokane, Lincoln, Grant, Adams, Whitman, Stevens, Okanogan, and Pend Oreille counties.

This declaration allows the Department of Ecology to conduct streamlined emergency water rights transfers for crops and cattle.

“So, all in all, the total state area in emergency declaration status is being reduced from about 96% of the state to 9% of the state, and this new declaration takes effect June 1st – tomorrow – and it will terminate next June 2023, unless we decide to terminate it earlier if conditions really improve,” Marti said.

What summer holds for Washington remains to be seen. Coming off of last summer’s atypical triple-digit temperatures, weather forecasters are predicting above-average temperatures with below average precipitation, although experts do not expect a repeat of last year in terms of heat.