Governor declares drought
Last updated 7/21/2021 at 10:47am
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee declared an emergency drought for most of the state July 14.
The drought affects every county in the state but excludes an area that encompasses most of King County, half of Snohomish County, and Tacoma by itself. It stretches from north of Everett to south of Kent. Tacoma is the only area in Pierce County not impacted by the drought, according to the state.
"Many areas of (Washington) are currently under the stress of these extreme drought conditions," said Inslee.
A drought emergency means the water supply is projected to be below 75% of average and poses a threat.
"The only parts of the state not under the drought declaration are the metropolitan centers of the Puget Sound area. Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett are expected to have sufficient water storage to meet residential and commercial needs through the summer, and to maintain adequate water levels in nearby rivers to protect fish," stated the state Department of Ecology (DOE).
The state is not asking people to cut back on water use yet, said DOE Director Laura Watson.
A drought emergency declaration allows the DOE to expedite processing for emergency drought permits, process temporary transfers of water rights, provide funding assistance for public entities, and hold public education workshops.
Inslee denied an earlier request to declare an emergency drought. The Washington Association of Wheat Growers President Ryan Poe and Washington Grain Commission Chairman Mike Carstensen requested the declaration on June 15 in a letter to the governor.
"As the extremely hot temperatures have reminded us, much of Eastern Washington - including our wheat-growing regions - is in the middle of a drought," Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said July 1. "This is a huge concern for me and other wheat growers in the area."
Schoesler represents the 9th Legislative District, which includes Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield, Whitman, and part of Spokane counties.
The letter to Inslee was answered by Watson. In her response, she rejected the drought emergency declaration but provided information on how wheat farmers could seek federal assistance.
"It was disappointing to see that a key official with the Inslee administration was not willing to offer more help from the state at a time when many dryland wheat farmers are going to be devastated due to this terrible drought," Schoesler said.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack sent a letter to Inslee before the declaration. He designated 14 counties in Washington as natural disaster areas due to the drought.
The counties are Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and Yakima.
Schoesler said he wasn't surprised Inslee capitalized on the record-breaking heat by attempting to connect it to climate change in campaign fundraising letters sent out before the drought declaration.
"What we are seeing now is a spike in the climate devastation scientists have warned us about for generations," said Inslee during his drought announcement. "The alarm bell only rings louder with time, and we can only hit the snooze button so many times. We must act now for our future and for our children and grandchildren."
The declaration should help Eastern Washington wheat farmers, but Schoesler would like to have seen it done earlier.
"The governor needs to focus more on ag and less on fundraising," Schoesler said.