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Inslee declares drought emergency for vast majority of Washington, says this is ‘summer of climate change’

By Nico Portuondo 459-5140

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency Wednesday for the vast majority of Washington and said that the historic dry spell is being made worse by climate change.

“We have to recognize this, this wave of climate change is breaking across our state,” Inslee said during an afternoon press conference. “This is the summer of climate change.”

The declaration, which excludes only the Seattle, Tacoma and Everett metro regions, means that water supply is projected to be below 75% of average in almost all of Washington.

The state department of Ecology will now have permission to take emergency relief measures to protect public water supplies, safeguard fish and boost streamflows.

Washington State Department of Ecology director Laura Watson said that state plans for voluntary curtailment of water use is not on the table. However, counties may ask their residents to cut back on water use as the drought continues.

Washington farmers, whose fields have been battered by the drought and extreme heat, will also now have access to additional government resources.

Inslee and Watson said the need for the declaration reflects climate change’s effects on Washington’s residents as the worldwide crisis is making droughts in the state more extreme and longer.

Inslee connected Washington environmental issues from low berry harvests to dwindling populations of salmon species as a collective signal that the nation needs to address the climate crisis.

Since the start of the year, Spokane has had 4.76 inches of rain as of July 13. That makes 2021 the second-driest in recorded history as of July 13, according to the National Weather Service.

During 2015, which was a severe wildfire year, the area had 7.02 inches of rain by July 13, according to Greg Koch, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

The U.S. Drought monitor puts most of Eastern Washington under extreme drought, and labels all of the areas under the emergency declaration as at least abnormally dry.

And its not just been historically dry. Spokane has had the hottest summer on record, with the average temperature from June 1 to July 13 being 73.5 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The historic drought and heat has fueled several explosive Washington wildfires early on in the season, leading Inslee to also declare a wildfire state of emergency last Tuesday.

Hilary Franz, commissioner of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, said that we’re experiencing wildfires right now that usually don’t show up until August.

She expects the 2021 wildfire season to be the worst in at least five years.

Existing fires include the new 7,000 acre Red Apple Fire in Chelan County that started late Tuesday,  two massive fire complexes south of Clarkston, and dozens of smaller blazes in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the use of federal funds on Wednesday to help the state of Washington with firefighting costs with the 15,000 acre Chuweah Creek Fire near Colville.

The agency determined the fire was threatening homes, roads, tribal government buildings, a tribal prison, parks and recreation facilities, and utilities. 

The agency approved a grant that now frees federal funding for up to 75% of Washington’s Chuweah Creek firefighting costs and an additional $778,778 will be made available for post-fire mitigation and clean-up costs, according to a FEMA press release.

This the second grant of its kind to be approved in Washington in 2021 after the Andrus Fire in early July.

Smoke from these fires and larger fires in Canada pushed the particulate rating Wednesday morning in Spokane to 106 or in the “unhealthy for some” category, according to the Spokane Regional Air Quality Agency.

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