Storms ease state’s drought fears

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WALLA WALLA — Last month’s storms have eased drought worries, but Washington state’s drought committee is still meeting just in case.

Heavy snowfalls that started in early February have bulked up snowpacks across the state. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack levels today ranged from 14 percent above normal in the Lower Snake River to 81 percent of normal in the Olympics, a far cry from the low readings on Groundhog Day that worried forecasters.

Measurements for the Walla Walla River snowpack showed it at 86 percent of normal with year-to-date precipitation at 96 percent of normal.

The snowpack conditions and overall dry winter weather prompted activation of the state’s Water Supply Availability Committee, which held its first meeting on Feb. 6 to begin discussions of runoff conditions and possible relief measures.

Committee members are drawn from state and federal agencies that monitor water supply conditions in Washington and decide if a drought declaration should be recommended to the governor.

Despite the encouraging snowpack conditions, it is too early for the water supply committee to “stand down,” Ecology spokesman Dan Partridge said. The committee is to meet again Friday.

“(The committee) is continuing its work since projections show Washington must receive 200 percent of average snowfall by the end of March to get back to normal water supply,” Partridge said last week.

Under state law, if the governor directs the director of the state Department of Ecology to declare a drought, the state can provide loans and grants to water users like irrigators, well owners and operators of small water systems who are experiencing hardships.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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