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Nearly all of Washington in severe drought

The Teanaway River near Cle Elum is considerably low. (Department of Ecology)

From fishermen to wildfire victims and hay farmers, people across Washington are being hit by the worst state drought in modern history. Officially, 99 percent of the state is in a severe drought.

Forests are tinder-dry. Add high winds and lightning, and the potential for devastating wildfires is incredible. The Sleepy Hollow Fire already tore through the Wenatchee foothills and destroyed at least 24 homes.

A couple months ago, we saw the state’s largest-ever crab fishery closure because of warm ocean temperatures.

Last week, hay and alfalfa farmers in the Yakima Basin were told by the state they would have to curtail water use.

Jim Lust of Lust Brothers Farms was not among the group told to cut back, but he’s still bracing himself.

“We could be shut off anytime, that’s up to the water master,” he said. “But I know the creek is low and we’re just looking over our shoulder.”

Lust is talking about Cowiche Creek, which he says is practically all mud. It’s unusual that someone like him or his counterparts would have to stop using water for their crops. Water rights go by seniority and the one on his land dates back to the late 1800s.

Those folks haven’t been touched in years, but 129 of them were told last week they have to stop using water.

“I’ve been following water rights issues on the Yakima River for 30 years and this is as bad as I’ve seen it and it’s only gonna get worse,” said Joe Mentor, an attorney who specializes in water and farming.

Here in Western Washington, regular folks aren’t under restrictions but last week, Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett all started the first stage of their water shortage plan.

Phase 1 involves convincing regular people to think about water use. They’re telling the public, ‘Hey, don’t be blase about water. Don’t water your lawn at noon because it’s just going to evaporate. Fix leaks. Use a broom to clean the sidewalk, not a hose.’

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