Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

With Less Rain Than Phoenix, Washington Faces Challenging Drought

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Farmers across Washington are struggling to keep thier crops watered and are having to adjust thier systems.

Washington is getting less rain than Phoenix, Arizona, state Ecology Danager Maia Bellon said during a press conference in Lacey Friday.

This year even tops the droughts of 2005 and 2001, she said. The lack of precipitation is drying up farmers’ berries, killing large mother sturgeon on the Columbia River, emptying steams and stressing municipal water supplies.

“Since we called a statewide drought conditions have dramatically hardened and deepened,” Bellon said. “As of this week 98.6 percent of Washington state is considered to be in a severe drought.”

On a statewide press conference call, Washington scientists and resource managers laid out the grim facts:
747 wildfires have burned in the state since June 1. These fires run through grass and explode through forests.

There’s a high probability for lightning-started fires – and state managers are worried about another one like the Carlton Complex.

Warm streams and rivers are stressing out fish so badly that the state has closed down sport fishing in several systems, and expects to close down more soon.

Some farmers are working on tricky water transfers to save valuable crops like spinach seed, cranberries and blueberries. In southeast Washington, others are forgoing growing hay to pour water onto other crops.

The state has $16 million to allocate toward drought relief and fire fighting. State managers call that adequate.

The state is looking ahead and planning for the chance that this drought could persist into next year or the next several years.

Ecology managers are looking at piping more canals and increasing water storage systems in vulnerable basins like the Yakima.

“We’ve never experienced a drought like this,” Bellon said. “We began at a snowpack drought and that has worsened with no rain, and we’re in an unbelievable streak of dry and hot weather.”

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.