Drought deepens in Clallam, Jefferson counties

A drought emergency has been declared in watersheds in 12 counties, including Clallam and Jefferson.

Early snowmelt, a lack of spring rain and low streamflows prompted the state Department of Ecology to declare a drought emergency for watersheds in 12 counties throughout the state.

Under the terms of the order, Ecology may issue temporary permits for water; approve temporary transfer of water rights; provide funding assistance to impacted public entities and take further action depending on the development of drought conditions.

Clallam County Public Utility District’s Island View Water System is trucking in water because Olsen Creek’s streamflow is too low.

The system serves a population of 78 residential customers and 13 non-residential customers. That system is currently at a Stage 4 Water Alert under Clallam PUD’s drought response plan, which calls for mandatory outdoor water restrictions and indoor conservation.

The Clallam Bay/Sekiu Water System has been at a Stage 3 Water Alert — outdoor restrictions — and the Upper Fairview System is under a Stage 2 Water Alert — voluntary conservation.

PUD spokesperson Nicole Hartman said water for the Island View district is being trucked in from Clallam Bay, which is about 6 miles away.

“Usually we don’t see it getting to this stage until later in August, so this is definitely early,” Hartman said. “We’re having a dry year.”

Low flows

In the Lyre-Hoko, Sol Duc-Hoh and Dungeness-Elwha watersheds, concerns about fish hatcheries and salmon migration have been reported due to low streamflows, Ecology reported.

James Losee, Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 6 fish program manager, said the agency has been monitoring low water flows and high temperatures for weeks, and the Quillayute River saw some of the lowest flows on record last week.

The drought emergency was expected, Losee said, and it hasn’t changed fisheries’ policy because years of similar conditions already led to fisheries being reduced.

“Fisheries have been curtailed already based on what we’ve seen the last few years,” Losee said.

The low flows in rivers on the North Olympic Peninsula have impacted the ability of some fish to return to area hatcheries, and the department may have staff and volunteers go out and physically relocate fish into the hatchery, he said.

Though some areas of the Peninsula have received light rain over the past few days, it hasn’t been enough to impact flow levels in rivers, Losee said.

If drought conditions continue through the summer, change may be made to local fisheries, Losee said.

“It reiterates the need to keep an eye on these flows,” Losee said. “These are really challenging and in some cases unprecedented times.”

Other counties

In addition to Clallam and Jefferson, counties affected by the drought declaration include Benton, Columbia, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish, Walla Walla, Whatcom and Yakima. The rest of the state remains under the drought advisory issued by Ecology on July 5.

“This drought is already harming Washington communities, businesses and farms, and it’s another sign of the damage that climate change is causing to our state,” said Laura Watson, Ecology’s director, who warned of a “drier future.”

In Washington state, drought is declared when there is less than 75 percent of normal water supply and there is the risk of undue hardship.

Declaring a drought emergency allows Ecology to process emergency water right permits and transfers.

New legislation passed this spring also makes $3 million in emergency drought funds available as grants to support communities, irrigation districts, tribes and other public entities facing hardships.

May and June of this year ranked as the fourth warmest and 11th driest such periods since 1895. In June, Washington received only 49 percent of its usual rainfall. Those hot days led to early runoff of the snowpack that feeds many Washington rivers, and the dry weather deprived the soil of a final shot of moisture before the summer heat arrived, Ecology said.

Current forecasts show a high likelihood of continued warm, dry weather through October.

“Climate change is making warm, dry summers more frequent, and droughts more severe,” said Ria Berns, manager of Ecology’s Water Resources program. “What we’re seeing this year is likely a sign of things to come.”