Worst drought on record a one-two punch to landscape

$16 million relief funding available

Across the state of Washington wild fires rage, public water storage is a concern, farmers are cutting back on their crops and fishing rules have been dramatically changed.

That’s according to state officials speaking during a conference call last Friday.

Ginny Stern, a hydro-geologist for the Washington State Department of Health, said some public water systems in the state are experiencing August-like conditions.

“There are 14,000 public water systems across the state,” she said.

In the Olympic Peninsula, there has been one municipality that has already activated its mandatory conservation measures.

“Think of three months of August…that’s what we are looking at,” said Stern.

Continued dry weather and drought conditions may threaten water supplies throughout the state. She said there are relief funds for public water systems available through the Department of Health and the Department of Ecology.

The state legislature has appropriated $16 million in grant funding over two years for immediate and long-term projects that will ease the burdens of farmers, municipalities and irrigators. The funds can be used to modify existing water sources or deepen existing wells. The money can also be spent on developing emergency alternate water sources, purchasing or leasing water or water rights to be used during the drought, and other projects that ensure water conservation and access.

Maia Bellon of the Washington State Department of Ecology said conditions this year are “…remarkably worse than in 2005 and 2001.”

During Friday’s conference call she said the state has “…never experienced a drought like this, worsening with no rainfall.”

The west side of the state, said Bellon, has had record low rainfall, “…less than the Phoenix forest.”

The forests are suffering, there have been 747 fires statewide amounting to more than 74,000 acres burned, and farmers are allowing crops to lay fallow this year.

“Washingtonians are resilient,” said Bellon.

Joe Stohr, deputy director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the drought not only poses an environmental threat but an economic threat, as well.

He said $4.5 billion of economic activity is threatened by the drought.

The WDFW has already closed or reduced fishing on more than 30 rivers statewide, according to Stohr.

He said the WDFW continues to monitor waterways, and the Columbia and Snake rivers are being closely monitored and regulated via a partnership with the state of Oregon.

In some waterways aerators have been added in an attempt to cool the water.

A big threat to the fish, said Stohr, is the construction of recreational rock dams, which officials are removing when possible.

He urged the public to also remove the rock dams, which pose a threat to the movement and spawning of fish.

Department of Agriculture hydrogeologist Jaclyn Hancock talked about the drought’s impact on farmers, saying many are stressed.

Many crops are producing fewer yields, pastures are short and some crops are sunburned, according to Hancock.

She said growers are being urged to maintain detailed records for federal drought relief funding.

“Wildfire season is early and energetic,” said Department of Natural Resources Deputy Supervisor Mary Verner.

She said the ratio of human caused to natural fires is four-to-one.

For this reason the DNR is urging citizens to be more diligent about the fire hazards, according to Verner.

She said the fuels are very dry and fire is consuming them quickly.

Also, low water supplies make it more difficult to extinguish fires.

The U.S. Geological Survey has been gauging river levels since 1892, according to its public affairs officer John Clemens. He said there are 300 monitors in waterways statewide that show streams and rivers are 84 percent below normal streamflows.

“This is the driest we have seen…it’s more severe and widespread,” Clemens said, noting the drought is affecting the entire state.

State climatologist Nick Bond said this week’s temperatures are expected to be slightly lower than normal, but the long-term outlook remains dismal because warmer than normal temperatures are expected during the months of August and September.

Also, this coming winter is also expected to be warmer than normal, keeping snowpack levels low.

“It’s a one-two punch to the landscape,” said Bond.


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