Gov. Inslee declares drought for key areas as record-low mountain snowfall persists

OLYMPIA -- With snowpack conditions across Washington state mountains at or near record-low levels, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for three regions.

A drought was declared Friday for watersheds on the Olympic Peninsula, the east sides of the Cascades and the Walla-Walla area, the three areas hardest hit by the lack of rainfall and snowfall.

Snowpack is a mere 7 percent of normal in the Olympic Mountains, state officials said. It ranges from 8 to 45 percent of normal across the Cascades, and is 67 percent of normal in the Walla Walla region. An unusually warm winter has caused much of the precipitation to fall as rain.

The state has requested $9 million in drought relief from the legislature, officials said. The money would pay for agricultural and fisheries projects, emergency water-right permits, changes to existing water rights, and grant water-right transfers.

"We can't wait any longer, we have to prepare now for drought conditions that are in store for much of the state," said Inslee. "Snowpack is at record lows, and we have farms, vital agricultural regions, communities and fish that are going to need our support."

A recovery toward normal snowpack is looking less and less likely, state officials said, if not impossible. Short and long-range weather forecasts are not expected to bring relief, calling for warmer and drier weather.

"We've been monitoring the snow conditions for months now, hoping for a late-season recovery," said Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon. "Now we're gearing up to help provide relief wherever we can when the time comes. Hardships are on the horizon, and we're going to be ready."

Water suppliers in the Seattle, Tacoma and Everett areas are in decent shape and are not projecting much hardship, officials said.