Washington declares statewide drought emergency after winter snowpack falters

A drought is declared when the water supply falls below 75% of normal levels, the state said.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Low snowpack and forecasts for a dry and warm spring and summer have spurred Washington state officials to declare a drought emergency.

The Washington State Department of Ecology said the new drought declaration continues 2023’s drought emergency and covers 12 watersheds across the state.

The agency adds that limited areas in the Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma metro areas are excluded from the declaration. These cities have reservoir storage and water management strategies in place, making their systems more resilient to drought than other areas.

A drought is declared when the water supply falls below 75% of normal levels, the state said.

Despite some improvement in February, March, and April, the Department of Ecology said there won't be any significant additions to the snowpack – currently at 68% across the state. Some areas, including the Olympic Mountains, Lower Yakima and north Puget Sound, have significantly lower snowpack. 

The agency adds that the lack of water in the snow and reservoirs will also seriously impact water users in the coming months.

"As our climate continues to change, we’re increasingly seeing our winters bring more rain and less snow," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said. "We depend on that winter snowpack to meet the needs of Washington’s farmers, fish, and communities during the dry summer months. And this year, it’s just not at the level we’re accustomed to and rely on."

Meanwhile, in California, the late-season atmospheric rivers have helped rescue their seasonal snowpack, starkly contrasting the situation in other parts of the West Coast.

The Department of Ecology said it is making up to $4.5 million available in drought response grants to qualifying public entities to respond to impacts from the current drought conditions.

"By moving quickly to declare a drought, we can begin delivering financial support to water systems with drought impacts, and work with water users to find solutions to challenges before they become a crisis," the department's director, Laura Watson, said.

During times of water scarcity, the agency says residents can take several steps to conserve water. 

Simple habits like turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth or running the dishwasher only when it’s full can make a difference. To learn more about water conservation, click here.