Department of Ecology News Release - April 16, 2024
Updated: April 19, 2024

Statewide drought declared due to low snowpack and dry forecast

Limited exceptions for metro areas with healthy water storage

Low snowpack and dry forecasts have prompted the Department of Ecology to issue an emergency drought declaration for most of Washington with exceptions for service areas in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. 


With winter’s snowstorms largely behind us and summer just weeks away, our state’s low snowpack and forecasts for a dry and warm spring and summer have spurred the Department of Ecology to declare a drought emergency for most of Washington.

After an exceptionally dry start to the winter, Washington’s snowpack made up some ground in February, March and April. But with chances for significant additions to our snowpack now diminishing, there is simply not enough water contained in mountain snow and reservoirs to prevent serious impacts for water users in the months ahead. With many watersheds already projecting low water supplies and planning for emergency water right transfers, Ecology declared a drought to make assistance available before those impacts become severe.

“As our climate continues to change, we’re increasingly seeing our winters bring more rain and less snow,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “We depend on that winter snowpack to meet the needs of Washington’s farmers, fish, and communities during the dry summer months. And this year, it’s just not at the level we’re accustomed to and rely on.”

Ecology is making up to $4.5 million available in drought response grants to qualifying public entities to respond to impacts from the current drought conditions.

“By moving quickly to declare a drought, we can begin delivering financial support to water systems with drought impacts, and work with water users to find solutions to challenges before they become a crisis,” said Laura Watson, Ecology’s director.


Ecology is working closely with other state agencies to coordinate the drought response.


“Snowpack, rainfall, and irrigation flows from major rivers provide the necessary water supply to sustain our communities and the agriculture industry,” said Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Derek Sandison. “The anticipated drought conditions this year emphasize the importance of building drought resilience into water management strategies throughout the state.”


The impacts of low flows raise serious concerns for fish and other species, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind.


“With decreased snowpack and the potential for low flows and warmer water conditions this summer, it could be a difficult year for fish and other aquatic wildlife,” Susewind said. “We’re working together to mitigate drought impacts on fish, wildlife and the habitat they depend on to survive.”

In Washington, drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply and there is the risk of undue hardship. Declaring a drought emergency allows Ecology to distribute drought response grants and to process emergency water right permits and transfers.

Excluded from the new drought declaration are limited areas in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. Utilities in these cities have reservoir storage and water management strategies that make them more resilient to drought than other systems.

The new drought declaration is really a continuation of 2023’s drought emergency, which covered 12 watersheds across the state. Even as the rains returned last fall, Ecology’s drought monitors warned that it would take an unusually cool, wet, rainy season to make up for those deficits. Unfortunately, an El Niño weather pattern brought more warm weather and left many mountaintops bare in early winter. The 2023 drought declaration was scheduled to end June 30 this year. The new, statewide declaration will continue into next year. 

Current conditions

Statewide snowpack currently stands at 68%. Some areas, including the Olympic Mountains, Lower Yakima and north Puget Sound, have significantly lower snowpack. Streamflows in many basins are already below 75% of normal. Forecasts for April through September have Chelan River streamflows at 52%of normal, while the Stehekin, Methow and Okanagan rivers are forecasted to have 59% of normal streamflows.

Climate predictions for April through August are for generally warmer and drier than normal conditions throughout Washington.

What can you do?

There are several ways individuals can conserve water during times of scarcity. Habits as simple as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth or running the dishwasher only when it’s full can make a difference. Visit Ecology’s water conservation page to learn more.

Contact information

Jimmy Norris
Communications Manager