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Washington governor declares drought emergency in nearly half the state

River flows in Washington state will be at their lowest level in 64 years

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency in nearly half of usually damp Washington on Friday, and officials said the entire state could be classified as drought-stricken by early May.

"We've never experienced a drought like this before," said Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology. "Rainfall is at 100% of normal, but average snowpack is 24% of normal. That's a record low in many areas.... Our river flows are expected to be their lowest in 64 years."

The last time a statewide drought was declared in Washington state was 2005, when circumstances were more akin to California's disastrous dry conditions--though not as severe--with both rainfall and snowpack down.

The major population centers of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett are not expected to feel the drought's impacts, Bellon said. But every river basin in Washington is on the drought watch list, and emergencies have been declared in 24 of the 62 basins.

During a conference call Friday, officials warned of an increased potential for wildfire.

"Fish throughout Washington state will suffer hardships as a result of low flows and warm temperatures through spring, summer and fall," said Joe Stohr, deputy director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Early fish flow releases are being carefully managed."

Inslee declared a drought in three regions a month ago, and on Friday expanded that drought declaration to 44% of the state. Washington has seen some precipitation since early March, officials said, but more snow was lost than added.

"This is an ongoing emergency, and we're going to have some long, hard months ahead of us," Inslee said in a written statement. "We're moving quickly so that we're prepared to provide relief to farms and fish this summer."

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