A drought declaration gives Ecology additional authority to speed-up approving water-right transfers. The curtailment notices in the Chehalis and Nooksack basins apply to irrigators with water-rights junior to minimum-stream levels set by Ecology to protect fish.
Ecology curtails water rights as Western Washington dries
Streams that raged in April and May have dropped below normal levels; west half of the state is abnormally dry
Irrigation rights have been curtailed in two Western Washington basins as the region’s once-robust summer water outlook has dimmed to the possibility of drought.
The Department of Ecology has notified 93 irrigators in the Chehalis basin in southwest Washington and nine in the Nooksack basin in northwest Washington that their water rights are on hold until streams and rivers rise. Flows in the basins’ rain-fed waterways were well above average in April, but dropped to between 50 percent and 75 percent of normal in May, according to Ecology calculations.
“It’s definitely an example of how quickly conditions can change and how variable they can be,” said Jeff Marti, Ecology’s drought coordinator.
Washington’s water supply was swelled by the state’s third-wettest April on record. That was followed by the second-warmest and 12th-driest May on record, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records that date back to 1895. The far western part of Washington had its driest May on record, according to NOAA.
Rapidly melting snow caused stream flows statewide to be 129 percent of average in May, according to Ecology. Stream flows are projected to vary widely in June, but average only 73 percent statewide. The state considers declaring droughts in basins where water supplies are projected to fall below 75 percent of normal and cause hardships.
“Streams on the west side of the mountains have been much below normal.” Washington State Assistant Climatologist Karin Bumbaco said. “It all turned around on a dime,”
The U.S. Drought Monitor reported June 14 that the western one-half of Washington was abnormally dry, up from 27 percent the week before. The federal Climate Prediction Center said Wednesday that chances are high that all of Washington will be unusually hot and dry for the following two weeks. The center previously predicted Washington will have a warm and dry summer.
The dry conditions have not yet deepened into long-term moisture deficients and could be reversed as quickly as they came on, Bumbaco said,
“I think it could go either way in the next four weeks,” she said. “It is worrisome that the Climate Prediction Center expects it to be warm and dry for the rest of the summer.”
Ecology’s water supply committee met in April and didn’t plan to meet again until October. That has changed. The committee will meet June 29 to assess whether drought conditions exist in some basins, Marti said.
A drought declaration gives Ecology additional authority to speed-up approving water-right transfers.
The curtailment notices in the Chehalis and Nooksack basins apply to irrigators with water-rights junior to minimum-stream levels set by Ecology to protect fish.
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