U.S. Water News Online
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire,
girding for the region's worst drought in 28 years, has declared a
statewide drought emergency.
For growers like Charlie de la Chapelle in the lower Yakima
Valley, it wasn't a moment too soon. The state needs to get cracking
on long-term solutions to the cycle of lush years and tinder-dry
years like this one, he said. The region desperately needs water
storage projects, he said in an interview from his apple and pear
orchard near Sunnyside in central Washington.
"It's danged tough," he said. "We've been in this industry for
four generations and this is the worst we've had. There will be dead
and dying trees in July and we will have to triage to save the most
"Too many of us will go out of business here and I will do my best
not to go out of business."
Users with junior water rights in some areas can expect to get
just 18 percent of their normal water.
Gregoire has been eying the situation for weeks, and decided to
declare a state of emergency and gear up the state government to
She traveled to the hardest-hit region, the Yakima Valley, to
announce her decision.
Gregoire directed an interagency Emergency Drought Committee to
set up an emergency command center to track and coordinate the
government's response and make sure state resources get where they
She ordered the National Guard to prepare for combatting wildfires
this summer and requested the Legislature to boost drought-related
appropriations by $8.2 million.
"While water shortages won't affect all areas of the state in
precisely the same way, it seems very likely that all areas of our
state will experience at least some level of drought this year,"
"We need to start taking action now, and all of us need to be part
of the solution."
As the Pacific Northwest awaits the worst drought since 1977,
precipitation is at or near record lows across the state, and
mountain snow pack averages are running 26 percent of normal. Many
rivers are at or near record lows for this time of year.
The water shortage hurts farmers, hydroelectric power production,
fish production, irrigation and other sectors of the region's
agribusiness economy -- and has people worried about an unusually bad
The drought is plaguing Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Meteorologists blame a weak El Nino, which brought unusually mild
weather to the region in January, February and, now, March.
Gregoire's emergency declaration authorizes the state Department
of Ecology to issue emergency water permits and temporary transfers
of water rights, and releases funding from the state's Drought
Ecology Director Jay Manning said his agency will focus on helping
farmers, communities and streams get the water they need.
"Unfortunately, I cannot promise that everyone will get all the
water they want," Manning said. "In some cases, we will be able to
provide only enough water for people to get by. We will manage
available water supplies the best we can, but we can't replace what
nature doesn't give us."
The state departments of agriculture, health, and fish and
wildlife will work with his agency to identify problems. Manning said
the state Conservation Commission will work with local conservation
districts and individual farmers on best practices for conservation
The Employment Security Department will focus on getting jobless
benefits to those who are thrown out of work, and the state
Department of Natural Resources will work with the guard to
coordinate forest firefighting.
Using lessons learned in the 2001 drought, many farmers,
hatcheries and communities aren't caught flat-footed, Manning said in
a statement the governor's office released. Some areas are using
treated wastewater for landscape irrigation, replenishing wetlands
and washing equipment. Farmers have replaced open ditches with pipes,
and irrigators are getting more efficient, he said.
"There are a lot of ways people can reduce their water use to
protect our streams and to keep the farms and businesses that power
our state's economic engine running," Gregoire said. "We can manage
this challenge if we all contribute to the solution."
The governor noted that Yakima Valley irrigators are feeling the
greatest pinch right now, but that water users all around the state
are dusting off their drought plans.
"Some communities have invested in systems to reuse and conserve
water, and they'll survive this drought better than communities that
haven't done as much," she said.
"Throughout this spring and summer, citizens need to pay close
attention to what their local water providers are saying about water
supplies in their area, and follow the instructions they are given.
"For most areas, every drop of water we save now is water that
will be available later when we may really need it."
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