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Eastern Washington in first-of-its-kind drought advisory with dry conditions across US

Eastern Washington is in a drought advisory, and some farmers have already suffered losses. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

Much of the Western United States is in a drought right now, and after one of the driest springs in 100 years, Eastern Washington is no exception, with the state having issued a drought advisory for everywhere east of the Cascades and south of the Puget Sound.

The first of its kind ever issued in Washington, the drought advisory warns people that conditions are ripe for a drought, and that they should take precautions, such as being conservative with water usage.

While the Seattle area is wet enough, “the east side of the mountains has been extraordinarily dry, so we really still have some pretty serious conditions on the Eastside in terms of drought,” said Jeff Marti, water resources planner and drought coordinator for the Department of Ecology.

Drought advisory issued for most of Washington

Eastern Washington did receive a little bit of rain this past weekend, but Marti said those tenths of inches were quite literally just drops in the bucket of what was needed. The area around Spokane International Airport, for example, is 4 inches of rainfall below normal, having had its driest spring for 140 years.

The good news is that the situation in Eastern Washington is not quite as dire as the extreme dryness hitting states like Utah, Nevada, and California right now. That’s thanks to a winter of high snowfall that saw people skiing through late May.

“Where we kind of stand apart from the West is that we had a pretty good snowpack this year … going into April,” Marti said. “What that means is good river flows, good runoff, and our reservoirs in the Yakima area, and certainly on the west side, are having no trouble filling up this year, so we expect a good water supply for irrigators.”

But while that helps the farmers using irrigation, it does not help the dryland farmers in Okanogan and the Columbia Plateau, Marti explained. The Palouse region of Southeast Washington is world-famous for dryland farming, using only the natural rainfall to water crops.

“We think the impacts are going to fall most heavily, and they are actually falling already, on dryland producers — so ranchers and folks that grow wheat out in the east part of the state,” Marti said. “Those folks are definitely being challenged. It’s kind of two different worlds between the folks that get water from the snow and the mountains, and those who are out in the dryland parts of the state and really missing out on that springtime precipitation.”

Marti noted that counties like Klickitat, Benton, and Asotin are already submitting reports of wheat growth failing and wells going dry.

To help mitigate impacts, he suggested farmers invest in crop insurance; they should keep careful records to document those losses. Ranchers can use Conservation Reserve lands from the federal government in an emergency.

Ecology also asks people impacted by drought to submit photos to its website.

While storms this week may bring some drought relief, there is always the risk of wildfire with heavy winds and storms. Marti suggests removing brush from around your home to make your house more fire-resistant. You can find more wildfire prevention tips here.

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