Water outlook good for Olympic Peninsula, state

Thanks to a healthy snowpack there are no drought conditions forecasted for the Olympic Peninsula this summer, though certain local areas may experience some water issues.

“At this point, we don’t see any water supply concerns,” said Jeff Marti, water resources planner with the state Department of Ecology.

“In terms of snowpack, we actually have a pretty nice snowpack.”

Most of the state’s water supply comes from snowmelt, Marti said, and this year the state as a whole saw normal to above-normal snowpack in the mountains.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture monitoring, an observation station at an elevation of 5,010 feet near Hurricane Ridge showed 54 inches of snow on May 4.

Another station — southeast of Mount Olympus at 4,870 feet showed 100 inches of snow on the same day.

The state has experienced lower than normal precipitation since the fall, Marti said — about 86 percent of normal — though recent weather is improving matters.

“The forecasted water availability for the summer is actually pretty good,” Marti said.

Most of the cities on the Olympic Peninsula get their water from surface waterways like rivers. Due to the geology in the area, there aren’t many underground aquafers on the peninsula, Marti said.

There are some smaller rivers on the peninsula that are less impacted by snowmelt and those areas might experience some water shortages, but for the main population centers there’s currently no concern.

Clallam County’s Island View Water District near Sekiu is one such area, Marti said, but that area has only 34 existing customers according to the Clallam County Public Utility District.

A warm summer can mean early melt-off, and that can also cause water shortage issues particularly later in the summer when water sources have been drained.

“Summers are when the skies turn off and the sprinklers turn on,” Marti said.

Water flows in rivers are important not just as a water source for people, but for fish as well. Higher river levels are better for fish species returning to their spawning grounds as they provide more space and areas where fish can rest on their journey. Spring precipitation is important for replenishing water levels in rivers, but this year has seen lower-than-average rainfall.

According to the National Weather Service, the first four months of 2023 saw between 1-2 inches of rain in Port Angeles while the 20-year average sits above two inches.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, some areas of eastern and southern Washington are currently experiencing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions, but the conditions on the Olympic Peninsula are normal.

Water restrictions are implemented at the local level, and the state Department of Health requires cities to have water shortage plans in place.

Last year, the City of Port Angeles implemented outdoor water restrictions in early October, citing continuously decreasing flows in the Elwha River where the city draws its water.

Outside is where residents have the highest water usage, Marti said, and there are things that people can do to limit consumption. Choosing plants that don’t have a high water demand and installing drip irrigation systems that are more effective in delivering water directly to the plant can help limit water usage.

Inside the home, installing low-flow and high-efficiency appliances can help reduce water consumption as can turning off water while doing things like brushing teeth.

“Once you get used to using water carefully, then it just becomes automatic,” Marti said.