The Snake River basin is at risk of joining the list of areas in Washington under drought conditions.
It was among six watersheds that the state Water Supply Availability Committee found to be at or below 75 percent of its normal water supply, the state Department of Ecology said Wednesday. The committee evaluates water supply by tracking snowpack in river basins.
Being placed in the “red zone” for risk of water shortage was the first step in a drought declaration, said Dan Partridge, spokesman for Ecology’s Water Resources Program. It still needs to be determined if water users in the area are suffering, or expected to suffer, a hardship.
The committee will talk to water users like farmers and fish hatcheries as part of the evaluation, Partridge said.
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“The concern in many parts of the state is that lack of snowpack could impact fish passage in the fall,” he said. “For the Snake River, in particular, that is a concern.”
The committee’s recommendations will be reviewed by the a state emergency water executive committee, which makes a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee on whether to declare a drought.
A declaration from the governor makes an area eligible for drought relief funds. Ecology had previously asked for $9 million from the Legislature in areas already declared to be in a drought emergency, including the Yakima Basin and Walla Walla. As much as $4 million of that would be used in the Yakima Basin to boost water allocations for some irrigators.
Inslee’s office called out the stae House on Wednesday for not including drought relief in its proposed 2015-17 budget.
The state now has only 22 percent of its normal snowpack, which is worse than in 2005, the last time a drought was declared, said state Ecology officials.