Gov. Gregoire wants $4.1 million for droughts - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Gov. Gregoire wants $4.1 million for droughts

















(File Photo)

Office of the Governor | governor.wa.gov

OLYMPIA – With snowpack levels in much of the Cascade Mountain Range at 25 percent or more below average, Gov. Chris Gregoire has asked the state Legislature to re-establish the state's drought relief reserves.

"For more than 30 years, we've kept money in reserve for drought situations," Gregoire said. "Those reserves have helped us deepen wells, lease water from senior water right holders and take other emergency actions to mitigate the impact of a limited water supply. However, due to the economic crisis, we currently don't have financial resources set aside to help counties, cities, utilities and farmers deal with a significant drought."

A drought in 2005 required the state to deplete its drought reserve account to help the people, farms and communities affected. A total of $8 million was spent in 2005 on drought relief projects. Gregoire is asking the Legislature to direct $4.1 million into the reserve account to address potential water shortages this year.

"The low snowpack means a lot of our winter precipitation in higher elevations fell as rain and won't be available as snowmelt when farms, fish and communities need it this summer," said Ted Sturdevant, director of the Department of Ecology. "We're hoping we won't need this money, but we will be ready if we do. Our goal is to protect farms, drinking water supplies, fisheries, and streams."

Washington's farmers grow more than $8 billion in crops and livestock. Profitable agricultural production in the Yakima Valley and the Columbia Basin is highly dependent on irrigation throughout the growing season.

"Water from snow melt is the lifeblood of Washington agriculture," said Dan Newhouse, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture. "If our farmers don't have adequate irrigation for their fruit trees, potatoes, grape vines and other high-value crops, they will be facing an economic disaster. We must prepare today to mitigate the impacts of a drought to protect our economy in rural communities and across the state."

Ecology has convened the Water Supply Availability Committee, which will meet again March 5. The committee represents several state and federal agencies that monitor water supply, weather, and climate conditions.

The group will closely monitor conditions and advise the governor and her executive inter-agency Water Emergency Committee if a declaration of a drought emergency is needed in any part of the state. A drought declaration would be requested in any region in which the following criteria were met:

The area's water supply is 75 percent of normal or less or is projected to drop to 75 percent or less.

Water users within those areas will likely incur undue hardships as a result of the shortage.

If those conditions are met, Ecology's declaration of a drought emergency frees up the state funds, and typically some federal funds, for drought relief.

Water availability varies from area to area, depending on local conditions. Gregoire encourages Washingtonians to consult their local water providers about the local situation and whether specific conservation measures are recommended.

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