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Dry, warm conditions in late spring lead to early runoff and water supply concerns

OLYMPIA – The warmest May on record coupled with an abnormally dry spring and early summer have resulted in quickly declining water supplies and have prompted the Department of Ecology to issue a statewide drought advisory.

“Our warm weather arrived a few weeks early this year and really kicked the runoff into overdrive,” said Jeff Marti, water resources planner for the Department of Ecology “Now, as we head into the hottest weeks of the summer, we want people to use water wisely and to be aware of our water supply situation. This drought advisory will help us get that message out.”

What is a drought advisory?

A drought advisory provides early warning of a possible drought. It promotes awareness and readiness for water users in areas where drought conditions are developing. Drought advisories are informational only and include no emergency authorizations or funding. 

Ecology continues to monitor water supply conditions and will regularly reassess the need for a formal drought declaration. 

What Happened?

An abnormally wet and cold April left the state with a healthy snowpack. Unfortunately, that was followed by warmest May on record (tying the mark set in 1958), resulting in early snowmelt. This caused an initial surge in streamflows for snow-fed rivers and streams. With that surge now spent, most streamflows in the state are projected to be below 75% of normal.

To make matters worse, in the 60 days between April 25 and June 23, the state only received 47% of normal precipitation, and soil moisture is also low in most of the state.

Watersheds on both sides of the state are being affected by the early runoff. In both the Skagit Basin north of Seattle and the Yakima Basin, irrigators are facing challenges due to a lack of water.

Widespread impacts to municipal water systems have not been reported, although some water systems have established early conservation restrictions to preserve drinking water.

Low streamflows later this summer may cause impacts to fish, but so far those impacts haven’t been reported.

Climate models suggest the summer will continue to be warmer than normal, but should not reach the extremes seen in 2021, when an unprecedented heat dome shattered temperature records across the state.

It’s not all bad news

Thanks to robust storage facilities, utility companies in large metropolitan areas including Tacoma, Seattle and Everett report having plenty of water for their customers.

Pasture and range conditions have also seen slight improvements since early May according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, but other information indicates that soil moisture is short across the state.

Report observations of drought conditions

Observations and photographs of drought conditions can help the Department of Ecology assess whether to elevate state response. Observations should be submitted using the Conditions Monitoring Observation System