The 2014 Mills Canyon fire burned more than 22,000 acres near Entiat. Last year featured the worst wildfire in state history.
By Drew Atkins
Washington faces what may be its worst drought in recorded history. The state isn’t on the road to sun-parched hellscapes out of Mad Max like some parts of California and the Midwest — not yet — but the coming months may serve as a wake-up call to new climate realities.
On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency for the first time since 2005. Washington was prepared to declare such a drought in 2012, but late season precipitation bailed the state out. No such luck this year. Snowpack on Washington mountains — a crucial source of runoff water throughout the spring and summer seasons, feeding rivers, irrigation systems and reservoirs — is 82 percent below regular levels as of May 18.
When it comes to Washington’s drought vulnerability, much has changed in the last decade beyond the snowfall drop-off. In the weeks and months ahead, Crosscut will offer wide-ranging coverage of the drought, featuring some of the state’s top environmental writers and experts. As preamble, below are three things Washingtonians should keep in mind when considering this drought, and especially those to come.
1) Drought response has been slow, and will likely be underfunded.
Over two months ago, the Washington Department of Ecology requested $9 million to fund drought preparation and mitigation activities. They’ve yet to see a penny. While it was possible to green-light those funds fairly swiftly, they’ve instead become entangled in Olympia’s biennial budget-writing dysfunction, for which there is no end in sight.
As conditions worsen, the request has risen to $9.5 million. According to DOE Drought Coordinator Jeff Marti, this is roughly the same amount they requested in 2005. Given the severity of the drought, and an array of other changes between these crisis years, legislators and climate experts agree it probably won’t be enough to do the job fully.
These funds will finance activities like deepening wells, creating new ones and buying water from those with a surplus to distribute to those in dire straits. It’s this latter activity, Marti says, where funding shortfalls will come into play. Each day without full funding raises more obstacles.
Drew Atkins is a journalist and writer in Seattle, and the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, InvestigateWest, Geekwire, Seattle Magazine, and others. He also previously served as the managing editor of Crosscut. He can be contacted at email@example.com.