Washington’s drought retreated slightly over the previous week, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Aug. 15, and federal climatologists said they’re less confident fall will be warmer than average.
A moderate or severe drought covers 57% of the state, down from 61%. Washington remains the only state in the West with any significant level of drought.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said odds favor above-average temperatures in September, October and November in the Northwest. The chances, however, are lower now than a month ago because the Pacific Ocean along the equator has cooled.
Washington’s drought has persisted since last spring, but has not worsened into a dire statewide emergency. The state Department of Ecology has issued eight emergency water-rights to farmers, compared to 71 during the last significant drought in 2015.
The department has distributed $517,340 for drought-relief projects, but still has almost $1.5 million on hand. Few public agencies have applied for money to help water systems, farms and fish get through the summer.
“I think July was quite moderate and eased some of the anxiety quite a bit,” Ecology drought coordinator Jeff Marti said.
Recent rains raised streams and cut into a long-term precipitation deficit, Washington State Assistant Climatologist Karin Bumbaco said.
The portion of Washington in “severe drought” remained at 13%, all west of the Cascades. Improvements were in Eastern Washington. Bumbaco said the drought could still worsen because fall rains are weeks away.
“The summer has been pretty moderate, but you don’t expect to see a lot of improvement anyway. It is not getting worse,” she said.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center on Thursday predicted temperatures in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California will be above average for the next three months.
Forecasters noted, however, they are less confident in that outlook than in July. Since then, an El Niño has gone away. Sea-surface temperatures are normal.
As a result, the best clue to the seasonal outlook is a decade-long trend toward higher temperatures, according to forecasters.
With no strong clue, forecasters predicted average precipitation for all four states.
Ecology has no plans to recommend expanding the drought emergency beyond 27 watersheds, or about half the state. Ecology anticipated last spring the watersheds would have less than 75% of normal water supplies.
The forecast has largely come true. A handful of watersheds have had less than 60% of their normal water supplies this month.
Lawmakers set aside $2 million for drought relief. Ecology has awarded five grants and is reviewing one application submitted Wednesday.
The department rejected four applications because the proposed projects would not have provided immediate relief or were not in a watershed covered by the emergency declaration.
Agencies that got money had to match it with an equal amount.
Ecology awarded grants to:
• Forks, $350,000 to develop a new well.
• Selah, $108,500 to clean and add a liner and screen to a well to maintain water pressure.
• Forks, $22,000 for water tanks to supply small water systems in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
• Jamestown S’Klallam tribe $20,290 to survey streams in the Dungeness and Sequim Bay to check water quality and for spots that fish can’t pass because of low flows.
• Skagit County Public Utility District No. 1, $16,550 for equipment to detect leaks in the district’s 750 miles of water pipelines.