Snow is visible along the top of Mount Pilchuck from bank of the Snohomish River on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Snow is visible along the top of Mount Pilchuck from bank of the Snohomish River on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Washington issues statewide drought declaration, including Snohomish County

Drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply and “there is the risk of undue hardship.”

By Robert Mittendorf / The Bellingham Herald

Washington declared a nearly statewide drought emergency Tuesday, citing low snowpack and forecasts of a warm, dry spring.

Limited exceptions were made for the Seattle, Everett and Tacoma areas, according to a statement from the state Department of Ecology.

“As our climate continues to change, we’re increasingly seeing our winters bring more rain and less snow,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “We depend on that winter snowpack to meet the needs of Washington’s farmers, fish, and communities during the dry summer months. And this year, it’s just not at the level we’re accustomed to and rely on.”

Drought is declared in Washington when there is less than 75% of normal water supply and “there is the risk of undue hardship,” according to Ecology’s statement.

Whatcom County, which relies on spring and summer snowmelt to fill the Nooksack River and fill its groundwater, was included in the drought declaration.

Seasonal snowfall of 430 inches at the Mt. Baker Ski Area in 2023-24 was among the lowest since records started being kept there in 1970-71 .

Declaring a drought emergency allows Ecology to provide grant funding and to process emergency water right permits and transfers.

Ecology is making up to $4.5 million available to qualifying public agencies to respond to the effects of current drought conditions, according to Tuesday’s statement.

“By moving quickly to declare a drought, we can begin delivering financial support to water systems with drought impacts, and work with water users to find solutions to challenges before they become a crisis,” said Laura Watson, Ecology’s director.

According to the National Weather Service, the Northwest is facing three months of below-normal rainfall and above-normal temperatures in spring. Warmer weather can cause early snowmelt as the region heads into its driest months of the year.

Excluded from the drought declaration were limited parts of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. Utilities in these cities have reservoirs and water management strategies that make them less prone to drought than elsewhere, Ecology said.

Ecology said Tuesday’s drought declaration was an extension and expansion of an order from 2023.

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