Washington’s Senate voted 44-0 Wednesday to allocate $18 million to fight the state’s drought.
The money will be available for use during the final days of the fiscal biennium 2013-2015, which ends next week, and for the state’s upcoming budget biennium 2015-2017.
The bill, by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, now goes to the House. The money will go to irrigation districts and public utilities for water-related repairs and improvements, digging wells and pumping water from one location to another. And it will be used to lease water from senior water-rights holders to send to those who may need it the most.
On May 15, Gov. Jay Inslee declared all of Washington to be in a drought, kicking in state-backed remedial measures on a scale never seen before.
People in the urban Puget Sound area are not feeling the direct effects. But rural Washingtonians — especially farmers — have been hit hard.
The drought is due to abnormally small snowpacks, which are now non-existent on numerous Washington mountain tops. Melting snow feeds the steams, rivers and irrigation canals to make Washington’s farm economy possible. The low snowpacks have been linked by some to global warming.
A drought officially occurs when a river basin’s water supply dips below 75 percent of normal with hardships for people, farmers and fish expected. The Washington Department of Ecology has a website on the drought. This year’s drought is currently expected to destroy about $1.2 billion worth of crops. In 2013, Washington’s farmers grew $10.1 billion worth of crops.
City residents in the Seattle, Tacoma and Everett areas won’t feel many effects from the drought because their water utilities have collected rain in their reservoirs in anticipation of low snowpacks — and have managed that juggling act well.
But this year’s drought is sparking fears of extensive wildfires on the scale of those that devastated north-central Washington last year.