Monday, February 10, 2014

Environmental Issues: Drought in Washington?

It is unusual for a rainy forecast to be met with a sigh of relief in a region famous for its gray skies; where a “day without rain” is often a rarity to be celebrated. However, that is just the case in the Pacific Northwest today, as heavy rain showers and familiar overcast skies roll back into place in the midst of a winter seriously lacking in precipitation.

Hooray, rain! 7-Day Forecast for Seattle from

While many people have enjoyed the sunny skies and outdoor opportunities offered by the uncharacteristically dry weather so far this winter, there are others who have a different view.  Skiers and snowboarders languish as day after day passes without any new snowfall to bolster the woefully thin base on the ski runs, and nature nerds such as myself cast a wary eye at bare mountain slopes in the distance, which should be resplendent in sparkling white at this time of year.

Lack of snowfall in the wintertime can lead to a big problem come summertime: drought. Drought is not normally a concern for our typically rainy region, but in light of the lean precipitation we’ve seen this winter, the Water Supply Availability Committee met at the WA Department of Ecology to examine the current outlook for our water supply and to plan for potential shortages this summer.  Findings from the Committee’s first meeting were posted on the Department’s ECOconnect blog last Friday, and here is their summary of the good and the bad:

The bad news:
  • "Conditions vary in basins across the state. Currently, water supply as measured in snowpack, January precipitation and reservoir levels is at less than 60 percent of the "median" in the Central Columbia, Upper and Lower Yakima, Lower Columbia, South Puget and Central Puget and Olympic regions.
  • Snowpack is currently at 35 percent of average in the Olympic Mountains. 
  • Statewide, Washington would need 200 percent of average snowfall over the next two months to get back to normal water supply.
  • The weather forecast for the months of March – May shows only an "equal chance" of above or below precipitation. "
The good news:
  • "Statewide average stream flows for now are normal.  
  • Seattle Public Utilities typically sees a 30 to 40 percent drop in water consumption this time of year and a spokesman said protecting the water supply for more than 3 million people is "manageable" right now "provided we get normal spring rain."
  • Reservoirs in the Yakima Basin are in "good shape" although snowpack is "in bad shape.""
Click here to read the full report.

The drought conditions for Washington state are currently reported as “moderate”. Let’s hope that we won’t be looking at an escalation to the same type of severe drought that much of California is currently experiencing.  With increased wildfire danger, dwindling drinking water supplies, and significant threats to agriculture, there are serious concerns about the state of affairs in California right now, as well as the ripple effects that would be profoundly felt throughout the country.  


So, let’s brush up on our rain dances, dust off the Gore-Tex and galoshes, and hope that the rainy weather keeps on coming!  Maybe we can even convince a few rainstorms to take a trip down to sunny California.

Don't wait until a drought hits - every day is a good day to save water! Click here for easy water conservation tips.

For all of the stream flow, snow pack, reservoir, and drought data you could ever need, check out the helpful compilation of sites from the Dept. of Ecology here.

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