U.S. Water News Online
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Christine Gregoire, stepping up
efforts to ease the impact of the region's drought, has called on
citizens to curtail their water use, asked the Legislature for $12
million and is preparing for a record fire season.
The Tivoli Fountain, popular with visitors to the Capitol campus,
will be turned off, state cars will be washed less frequently and
state agencies will be asked to cut their water use by 25 percent.
The governor also urged development of new water storage projects
as a longer-term fix to the dry weather that keeps recurring in
Gregoire declared a statewide drought emergency as the Pacific
Northwest prepares for the worst drought since 1977. Precipitation is
at or near record lows across the state, and mountain snowpack
averages are running 26 percent of normal. Many rivers are at or near
record lows for this time of year.
Meteorologists blame a weak El Nino, which has brought unusually
mild weather to the region.
The governor told a news conference the recent rain and snow in
some areas is, while welcome, too little and too late to make up for
months of dryness.
She announced actions on these fronts:
CONSERVATION. Gregoire called on all citizens, including those on
the greener, wetter side of the Cascades, to curtail their water use.
"We should all use water wisely, of course," she said. "I would
urge Washington citizens to pay close attention to what their local
water providers are recommending in the way of water use."
Seattle, Tacoma and other big water suppliers already have
launched conservation programs.
Gregoire said state government will lead by example. The
Department of General Administration will sharply curtail water use
on the Capitol Campus, ban pressure washing on state buildings, and
direct all state agencies to slash their water use by 25 percent.
BUDGET REQUEST. The governor asked lawmakers to create a $12
million drought response fund, to buy water, improve wells and
finance various water-supply projects. It also includes $2 million
for state agencies to expedite drought-related permits and assistance
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, and
House Agriculture Chairwoman Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, quickly
endorsed the spending request.
"The drought will hurt the entire state, and we will step up to
alleviate the painful effects," Grant said.
Linville added: "It's time to pull together as a state and deal
with this oncoming drought. We face possible fires, failed crops,
reduced water in our rivers and streams, and economic damage. The
only way we can avoid or lessen these drought-related problems is to
cooperate and find responsible solutions for people, farms,
communities and fish."
FIREFIGHTING. Gregoire said the National Guard, state Department
of Natural Resources and the prison system are teaming up for the
fire season, which could be the worst on record. Land Commissioner
Doug Sutherland said the season already has begun, a month earlier
than usual, with 11 fires reported so far.
The Legislature approved a bill to allow Gregoire to activate the
guard so personnel can be trained and equipment deployed as needed,
rather than wait for the actual call-up to fire duty.
The governor's budget request includes $200,000 for the DNR to
hire and train seasonal firefighters earlier than usual. Sutherland
said the agency has 110 pieces of firefighting equipment and will
hire as many as 600 seasonal firefighters. The prison system has 50,
10-person fire crews and the federal government and other states may
be asked for help, he said. Gregoire said she and other governors in
the region have informally agreed to help each other out this summer.
WATER STORAGE. Droughts happen with regularity and big water
storage projects are an essential long-term solution, Gregoire said.
The governor said she's been promoting storage ever since she was
state ecology director in the early 1990s.
Gregoire's new budget will include $16 million for various
watershed and storage projects, including the Pine Hollow Reservoir
in the Yakima Basin. She also includes $1.8 million to continue
studying the Black Rock Reservoir proposal and $6.7 million to
develop storage along the main stem of the Columbia River.
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