What a difference a year makes

Water supply in Washington near normal

It’s not unusual for late summer days to bring hotter, drier weather, and that may be the one thing that is “normal” about this summer.

Some years, we're biting our nails wondering if there will be enough water to go around. We declared drought in 27 watersheds last year due to low snowpack and dry conditions. This year, we received a healthy snowpack but precipitation has been scarce in Eastern Washington at lower elevations. In fact, Benton County has experienced its ninth driest water year on record (a water year runs from October to September). For irrigators, a healthy snowpack makes all the difference as rivers are still running normal.

“All in all, water conditions are looking pretty good around the state,” said Jeff Marti, Ecology’s water resources planner. “If you could capture snowmelt and rain earlier in the year, you are in good shape. However, we have had reports from places like Klickitat County where hay and alfalfa growers are experiencing lower yields and having to make plans to get feed elsewhere for their cattle this summer.”

Let’s look at the data

Graphic showing a map of Washington with the 7-day average streamflow outlook.

The US Geological Survey, who monitors streamflows, is showing “normal” levels for most of the state.

Recently, interagency water supply experts reported that: 

  • Snowmelt around the state is normal but, so far, it’s been a slightly drier than normal summer.
  • Soil moisture is adequate in most locations, although a little drier east of the Cascades, particularly near the Columbia River.
  • Above normal — but not extreme — temperatures are expected for the remainder of the summer.
  • Statewide, the seven-day average for streamflows looks normal.
  • For the April – September period, the water supply is generally greater than 90%, and that likely won’t change for rest of the year.

Watching the water

This is the time of year when conservation measures, such as curtailments, are often put in place. 

While we’re generally in good shape, there are a couple of places to keep an eye on. Last week, we announced that irrigators in the Touchet River basin are having to curb consumption to save water for fish and other uses. Frequent, dry conditions in southeast Washington indicate the fragility of this system and the need for a new future. The high demand for water in southeast Washington means that meeting the needs both instream and out-of-stream uses is challenging in a normal year. That’s why we’re working with local stakeholders to develop a plan that will improve streamflows and water supplies in the Walla Walla River Basin over the next 30 years.

The Methow River basin has been close to needing water regulation measures. The Wenatchee and Okanogan river basins are also showing declines, whereas water storage and a cool spring helped the Yakima River basin make it up to “full supply” for the mainstem.

We need your help

Whether the area where you live is experiencing dry conditions or not, you can help! It’s always important to use water wisely. Sweep off your driveway instead of hosing it down, and turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth. You can also be a “citizen scientist” and submit a report to the national Condition Monitoring Observer database.

You can also report any illegal water use to us.