Ecology issues drought emergency

Wheat farmers concerned

This Department of Ecology drought map shows the area in yellow included in the statewide emergency declaration. Courtesy Department of Ecology

OLYMPIA – The Department of Ecology (DOE) issued a statewide drought emergency last Wednesday, July 14, after record-breaking triple digit temperatures compounded by a historically dry spring and summer triggered concerns over water supplies across the state.
The emergency declaration comes on the heels of a DOE drought advisory issued in late May for all but 10 of the state’s 39 counties after recording the fourth driest March through April on record. In the latest emergency most of those 10 in the Puget Sound area are included.
A DOE media release said a drought emergency means water supply is projected to be below 75 percent of average with a risk of undue hardship to water users and uses. The formal declaration authorizes Ecology to take certain measures for the purpose of providing emergency drought relief:
● Expedite processing for emergency drought permits.
● Process temporary transfers of water rights.
● Provide funding assistance for public entities.
● Hold public education workshops.
A DOE media release said that Ecology, along with the departments of Fish and Wildlife, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, are reporting wildfires, signs of stressed fish, and farmers and ranchers are being forced to cut back on irrigation.
“Farmers’ crops are failing and ranchers are losing livestock because of these dry conditions, extreme heat, and lack of water,” Gov. Inslee said.

Locally wheat farmers are among agriculturalists feeling the effects of the unusually hot, dry conditions as they begin harvest earlier than anticipated this year.
Paul Katovich, CEO of Highline Grain Growers, said that the past couple of months have been the driest on record for rainfall since that data was tracked for the past 129 years.
“I watch a lot of weather,” said Katovich. “This is the worst we’ve ever seen in the history of tracking…and when to take the spring into consideration as a whole we rank 128th.”
There has been one drier spring in the past century and a quarter.
“In our area we didn’t have a good year last year either,” said Katovich. “We have had four successively worse moisture profiles in a row and now we’re looking into the fall with the record driest in recorded history; it’s that dry.”
The unusual conditions have compelled wheat farmers to begin harvest earlier this year. Katovich said that in normal years the difference between an early or late harvest season is usually a week.
“Seventy-six percent of the time you’re going to be within seven days of your average start date,” said Katovich. “We’re two weeks early; we’re clearly three standard deviations from the mean, it’s that dramatic.”
Down the road, fall seeding is another concern facing wheat growers this year. Katovich said the ideal date to start seeding in much of Highline’s footprint is August 25, when the combination of ground moisture and warm weather helps get the new crop off to a good start. The lack of moisture will play a major role in planting decisions this year.
The Office of the State Climatologist shows little hope for relief before fall. The three-month outlook for July through September shows increased chances of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the entire state.
The DOE release said individual actions can make a big difference during a drought. “Washington residents should check with their local water utility to learn what conservation measures are recommended in their area,” the release advises.

Citizens can help Ecology monitor the drought by submitting observations and photographs to the Conditions Monitoring Observation System online at survey123.arcgis.com.

Water users worried about the risk of their water supply failing should contact their nearest Department of Ecology Regional Office.

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