What is drought?

At its most basic level, drought means there is a lack of water to meet needs. Every year, we carefully monitor snowpack, precipitation, and local temperatures to help anticipate potential drought conditions. We work with state and federal agencies to determine current and projected water supplies for the state.

A graphic image of a thermometer

On this page, you can learn about the following:

  • Washington's definition of drought
  • Thinking ahead to drought advisory
  • Emergency conditions of drought
  • Planning ahead: drought resiliency
  • Working together: planning & preparedness grants

Drought Defined

In Washington, the legal definition of drought is based on water availability. A drought emergency is declared when water supply conditions are expected to fall below 75 percent of average, and there is potential for undue hardships due to low water supply. In 2020, the Legislature also authorized Ecology to issue a “drought advisory” when drought conditions are developing, but an emergency declaration is not justified.

We use drought advisories and drought emergencies to help mitigate the impacts of drought, lessening the negative effects it can have on water supplies for people, farms, and fish.

Thinking Ahead: Drought advisory 
Graphic of a yellow caution symbol inside a traingle

A drought advisory may be issued ahead of a drought emergency when it appears that drought conditions may develop. Drought advisories seek to increase awareness and readiness of affected water users. A drought advisory may suggest steps, like reducing water use, to conserve water. This can help water users plan, prepare, and even reduce the impact of drought conditions.

Drought advisories are a process adopted in 2020. Drought advisories are informational only, and include no emergency authorizations or funding.

Drought emergency
Graphic of fire inside an alert badge

A drought emergency may be declared statewide or for a more limited geographic area, like a watershed or county. A drought emergency means water supply is projected to be below 75 percent of average, and there is a risk of undue hardship to water users and uses. A drought emergency authorizes Ecology to process expedited requests for emergency water right permits. Emergency relief funding may also be available. Most recently, the state declared drought emergencies in 2015, 2019, 2021, and 2023. 

  • Drought 2023 Drought emergency declared in 12 counties on July 24, 2023