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Office of Governor Gary Locke
Contact:  Governor's Communications Office, 360-902-4136
Alt Contact:  Mary Getchell, Department of Ecology, 360-407-6157

Locke announces statewide drought emergency

ALDER LAKE - The state of Washington can survive its worst drought in at least a quarter-century if neighbors help their neighbors, Gov. Gary Locke said today as he authorized the Department of Ecology to declare a statewide drought emergency.

He added swift passage of his proposed legislation to bring Washington's archaic water laws into the 21st century also would provide important new tools to fight the drought.

Locke noted that the state's snow pack is at just 50 to 60 percent of average for this time of year, which will sharply reduce the amount of runoff into streams this summer. In fact, the flow in the Columbia River for April through September is expected to be less than 57 percent of average.

Just yesterday, more than 30 rivers in Washington experienced record low flows - all but one of which is in Western Washington. For example, the daily flow in the Columbia River at The Dalles was 42 percent of average; the Cowlitz River, 37 percent of average; the Skagit River at Mt. Vernon, 44 percent; and the Wenatchee River, 35 percent.

"This already is the worst drought in our state since 1977, and it's only March," said Locke. "We'll probably beat that record soon."

To illustrate how low water levels already are, Locke and other state officials announced the drought emergency from the shores of Alder Lake in eastern Pierce County - a shoreline that is widening as the water level falls rapidly.

"For anyone who thinks a major drought cannot happen in the Evergreen State, this drought is real and the effects are going to be real," said Locke. "We are facing an extraordinary situation that demands the full attention and cooperation of all citizens."

"We will need neighbors to share with their neighbors. If a city or a farmer has water that they can do without, then please consider loaning or leasing it to a city or farmer who doesn't have enough," said Locke. "Working together, we can keep our fish swimming, our farmers in business, and our citizens from going thirsty."

The emergency declaration immediately activates several tools the Department of Ecology can use to ease the effects of the drought: emergency water permits, temporary transfers of water rights and financial assistance.

Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons said his agency probably will grant few, if any, emergency water permits because there simply is no additional water to allocate in many parts of the state. Rather, he expects that temporary transfers of water rights will be the most-commonly used tool this year.

Ecology is using money from a special drought account to add staff to quickly process requests for water-right transfers. The transfers could be used to keep water in streams for fish, to provide water to communities that don't have enough water for their businesses and residences, or to help keep farm crops from dying.

To help determine where transfers are most needed, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is identifying where fish will be at greatest risk from the drought.

Also, the Department of Agriculture and the Conservation Commission will help match up farmers who have excess water with those who need water to save their crops. This "match-making" will be especially important for people who have interruptible water rights that may be cut off this summer because of low flows in the streams from which they draw their water.

The drought account currently contains $5.1 million, which Locke said will be spent to purchase or lease water rights to keep rivers and streams from drying up; to make agricultural irrigation systems use water more efficiently; and to help cities and towns keep water flowing to businesses and homes.

The Governor's Office is working with the state's congressional delegation and the National Marine Fisheries Service to obtain federal money to expand this program.

Other state agencies also are taking immediate steps to address the drought.

The Department of Health is surveying local water utilities to determine whether they anticipate water shortages this summer
The Department of Natural Resources is advising forest residents about how to protect their property from forest fires
The Office of Community Development is examining its many grant programs to determine whether additional money is available to ease the effects of the drought on businesses and communities
The Department of Ecology will step up its efforts to prevent illegal water use.

"These actions and this money will not take away all the pain or restore our normal water supply - the problem is too severe for that," Locke said. "We will minimize the pain as much as possible, but everyone needs to help by using water wisely and efficiently."
Related Links:
- Drought Declared in Washington
- Forest Fire Prevention
- Northwest River Forecast Center
- Water Supply Forecasts
- Natural Resources Conservation Daily Snow-Precipitation Update
- Washington Current Streamflow Conditions

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