Drought in Western Washington

Water shoots over a field in southwest Washington. The U.S. Drought Monitor categorizes all of parts of nine counties as in a “severe drought.”

A drought covering all or parts of nine Western Washington counties worsened in the past week from “moderate” to “severe,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

The downgrade comes after the fifth warmest May on record in Washington’s coastal region between the Olympic Peninsula and Oregon. Severe drought prevails over 11% of the state, while moderate drought affects another 33%.

The dry conditions contrast with soggy Midwest states experiencing their wettest 12-month period on record. “Out West, drought conditions intensified in Western Washington, where streamflow conditions are well below normal levels after a shallow snowpack this past winter,” the Drought Monitor stated.

The weekly report estimates the severity and spread of drought in the U.S. Washington is the only state in the Western U.S. with significant drought.

At the recommendation of water managers, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued drought declarations in April and May that apply to 27 watersheds covering about half the state. More basins could be added later this month.

Irrigation districts, conservation districts and other public agencies in drought areas can apply for grants from the state Department of Ecology for drought-relief projects, such as deepening wells, leasing water or repairing leaks.

Conditions are not as severe or as widespread as in early June 2015, the last time Washington declared a drought emergency. The USDA reported this week that farming conditions were mostly favorable in Washington, including west of the Cascades.

“In Western Washington, dry weather brought more field work,” according to the USDA’s weekly crop report. In Whatcom County in northwest Washington, where moderate drought prevails, strawberry harvest began, and “raspberries excelled during ideal growing conditions,” according to the USDA.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported Thursday that 4% of the streams it monitors in Washington were at record lows. On the same date in 2015, 17% were at record lows.

Moderate drought touches the northwest corner of Oregon, making up 2% of the state. The rest of northwest Oregon and the Willamette Valley are abnormally dry.

The tip of the Idaho panhandle is in moderate drought, 3% of the state. California is drought-free.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the odds favor warmer than average temperatures for the Northwest in June, July and August. Western Washington is also expected to be drier than normal.

The Drought Monitor’s four levels of drought are: moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional. No state in the Lower 48 has drought conditions worse than “severe.”

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