Washington keeps drought emergency status in parts of 8 counties

Despite a cool and wet spring, the Washington Department of Ecology on Thursday extended a drought emergency declaration for watersheds in eight eastern Washington counties.

Under the declaration, five watersheds spanning parts of Spokane, Lincoln, Grant, Adams, Whitman, Stevens, Okanogan and Pend Oreille counties will remain in "drought emergency" status that was first declared last year.

All other counties east of the Cascade Range will be downgraded to "drought advisory" status. Counties west of the Cascades no longer fall under drought conditions.

The spring of 2021 was the second-driest on record, and then an unprecedented late June heatwave smashed temperature records across the state. In response, Ecology issued an emergency drought declaration in July 2021 covering 96 percent of the state.

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That declaration was set to expire June 1, 2022. Ecology’s new amended declaration extends that to June 1, 2023 – but only for about 9% of the state.

A drought can be declared when the water supply in an area is below 75% of normal and there is an expectation of undue hardship.

Declaring a drought emergency allows Ecology to process emergency water rights permits and expedite requests for emergency water right transfers.