SEATTLE (Reuters) - Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency on Friday, saying drought conditions due to a lack of snowpack are some of the worst on record in a region normally known for its drizzly weather.
In an announcement in the state capital of Olympia, Inslee said the drought had “deepened dramatically in the past few weeks,” with conditions expected to worsen as the hot summer months approach.
The emergency declaration will free up funds and water rights to help counties most in need, Inslee said.
Rain totals in the state were equivalent to prior years, Inslee said. But the snowpack, which melts into streams, lakes and rivers and is vital to water supplies, was only 16 percent of average.
“What we lack is snow,” Inslee said. “We are calling it a snowpack drought.”
Washington, know as the Evergreen State due to its abundant green forests kept lush by heavy precipitation, is one of several western states struggling under drought conditions.
California is enduring its worst drought on record, and that state’s mountain snowpack, which usually provides about a third of the state’s water, is at the lowest level on record, according to state officials. Drought emergencies have also been declared in parts of Oregon and Nevada.
Officials in Washington state were still deciding which agricultural areas will receive additional water resources and other support, Inslee said. In some regions, water was being shifted creek-to-creek and fish were being hauled to more abundant water, Inslee added.
“We are seeing things happen at this time of year we just have never seen before,” the Democratic governor said. “On the Olympic Peninsula - where there would normally be 80 inches (2 meters) of snow today in the mountains - the glacier lilies are blooming.”
State officials have estimated $1.2 billion in crop losses associated with the drought, he said.
Drought conditions also mean the annual wildfire season could be longer and more destructive, Inslee said. Last year, Washington state endured one of its worst wildfire seasons on record.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham