Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency on Friday due to “unprecedented” low snowpack in the mountains, where he said glacier lily flowers are blooming in areas where there should be more than 6 feet of snow.
“It’s really unlike anything we’ve experienced. Rain has been normal. What we’ve lacked is snow,” said the governor, who termed it a “snowpack drought.”
Of the 98 snow sites in Washington measured in May by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, 66 sites have little to no snow — with 11 sites “snow-free for the first time ever,” Inslee said.
The lack of snowpack is resulting in historic river lows, and irrigation districts are being forced to tap reservoirs earlier than normal.
Farmers are expected to bear the brunt of the drought. The Dept of Agriculture is projecting $1.2 billion in crop losses due to the drought this year, according to Inslee. To extend water supplies, irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin are turning off water for weeks at a time.
“We are already seeing severe impacts in several areas of the state and conditions are expected to worsen over time,” Inslee said. “Difficult decisions are being made today about what crops gets priority in our vital agricultural region.”
When deciding which crops will get emergency water assistance from the state Dept. of Ecology, agency director Maia Bellon said the department takes into consideration the value of the crop and expense of replanting.
Allowing an annual crop to fallow is less expensive, she said, when compared to perennial crops like pears, cherries and hops. “It is much more expensive to replant a pear orchard,” Bellon said.
Puget Sound residents are unlikely to be impacted by the drought, although officials say they should be mindful of water use. Large municipal water districts in cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have adequate water storage and don’t anticipate shortages, Inslee said.
“Use what you need, no more, don’t waste,” said Ginny Stern of the Dept. of Health.
Watch the press conference below: