drought | KUOW News and Information

drought

Early this winter, skiers in the Northwest were excited. But then after about Christmas things turned dour. The once-epic snowpack is now long gone. In Washington state, it melted down in record time to less than half of average for early June.

And there hasn’t been much rain this spring either. The Cascades, Olympics and Blues are all hurting.

Can the ‘Godzilla’ El Niño’ solve California’s drought problem?

Jan 22, 2016
C
 Image by Airborne Snow Observatory program, NASA/JPL, California Institute of Technology

The Los Angeles River has once again come to life, supercharged with rainwater. Freeways have flooded. And California’s Sierra Nevada mountains — the so-called “snowy mountains” — are living up to their name.

This is all thanks to the huge ocean-atmosphere event Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert is calling a “Godzilla El Niño.”

When summer began this year, signs weren’t good for water in the Willamette River Basin.

Record low snow packs had already melted, spring precipitation was well below average, and — for some cities — it had been the hottest June on record.

By the time summer was over, the Detroit Lake Reservoir had dried up to an unprecedented level. And according to the Department of Agriculture, Oregon is still experiencing severe drought.

KUOW photo/Anna King

David Hyde speaks with Northwest News Network reporter Anna King about what kind of season Washington's wine industry saw this year. 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The latest El Niño forecast report is out from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and it looks like the drought will continue into next year for most of Washington.

Seattle Public Utilities says its dams are about three-quarters full.
Flickr photo/Konstantin Stepanov (CC BY 2.0)

Way to go, Seattle and Tacoma and Everett. You’ve cut your water use by 14 percent over the past eight weeks. That handily beat the goal of the region’s city water managers of a 10 percent reduction.

The bad news, the cities said Wednesday, is that typical fall rains still haven't arrived (despite the drizzle outside) to end the drought gripping Washington state.

Paper or plastic? If you're at a restaurant in the coastal city of Fort Bragg, Calif., that's what your food is likely to be served on these days.

The drought-stricken city, located about 170 miles north of San Francisco, recently declared a "stage 3" water emergency, which makes it mandatory for businesses and residents to reduce water usage.

In Napa, Calif., a company called Free Flow Wines fills and dispenses reusable wine kegs, which are used by restaurants and bars for serving wine on draft. Every month, the company rinses and refills about 10,000 of the stainless steel casks, each of which eliminates the need for 26 clunky wine bottles.

This is a small win for the environment, since glass bottles are heavy and require energy to ship.

In some areas of the Northwest, dryland farmers are getting impatient. They need rain to plant winter wheat.

Northwest Drought Likely To Extend Into 2016

Sep 24, 2015

Don't be fooled by the recent rain and cooler temperatures. Most of Oregon and Washington are still experiencing severe or extreme drought.

With many of the region's reservoirs and streams still far below normal and a warm winter on tap, experts are predicting this year's drought will likely continue into next year.

Smoke from wildfires in the Northwest stream in this photo taken from the International Space Station.
NASA

Marcie Sillman speaks with Sarah Mirk, online editor for Bitch Media, about what Portlanders are doing in response to Oregon's drought. (Hint: not much.)

This is the second story in our two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing the way the Northwest looks to reservoirs to meet its water needs. Read part one here.

This summer’s hot, dry weather has left Northwest apple growers hurting for water to irrigate their orchards. It’s a hint at what’s predicted as the climate continues to warm.

The giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are one of America's treasures, but for the first time in Sequoia National Park's history, the trees are showing visible signs of exhaustion due to the drought.

On a hike last summer, a scientist noticed that the needles of the giant sequoias were browning and more sparse than usual. This finding got ecologists thinking: Did the drought cause this?

Kim Malcolm talks with Seattle Parks and Recreation superintendent Jesús Aguirre about how the city is cutting back on water use to help head off a water shortage.

Ross Dam on the Skagit River is one of Seattle City Light's major power generation sites.
Seattle City Light

Seattle’s electric utility says it's taking a big financial hit because of the weather: The lack of rain has affected its ability to produce surplus power to sell in the open market.

Its revenue from selling that surplus is down more than 40 percent, KUOW has learned.

'The Blog' is indicated by dark orange on the West Coast of the U.S. The Blob is a patch of warm water that was detected by a University of Washington climatologist in 2013.
Courtesy of Nick Bond

Call it “The Blob.”

It’s an unusually warm patch of water off the West Coast that has flummoxed climatologists.

“It’s still rearing its ugly head,” said Nick Bond, Washington state climatologist and regular contributor to KUOW. He first detected The Blob in 2013. 

sprinkler lawn water
Flickr Photo/Amanda Graham (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Residents of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett are being asked to cut back on their use of water by 10 percent.

That’s because the summer’s historic high temperatures and lack of precipitation have worsened the region’s water supply outlook. In addition, water supply managers are worried about forecasts for drier than normal conditions this fall.

When it comes to watering your lawn during drought and wildfire season, what’s the sweet spot between water conservation and fire hazard?

As drought conditions worsen across the state, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order Tuesday to help conserve water.

We're not that emerald of a city anymore with the recent drought conditions.
Flickr Photo/Jeff Youngstrom (CC BY NC 2.0)

Extremely dry weather and rising use have got the Puget Sound region’s cities thinking seriously about a water shortage later this year.

Seattle, Tacoma and Everett said Monday that they're activating the first stage of water shortage response plans.

Distressed Trees Prompt Early Watering Reminder

Jul 24, 2015

With high temperatures around state, the Oregon Department of Forestry is reminding people to water their trees.

Signs of distressed trees include leaves that are curling, wilting or appear scorched.

Cynthia Orlando, an ODF spokesperson, said deep watering is essential.

"Using a soaker hose and letting the water get down deep on all sides of the tree so that it soaks all the way down into the soil," she said. Additionally, she recommended putting out mulch to help retain moisture and maintain soil temperatures.

Farms and fish aren’t the only ones suffering from Northwest drought conditions. So are trees and plants on Washington’s 435-acre Capitol campus.

Washington is getting less rain than Phoenix, Arizona, state Ecology Danager Maia Bellon said during a press conference in Lacey Friday.

Oregon and Washington officials are curtailing fishing starting Saturday on many of the states' rivers in hope of helping salmon, trout and steelhead survive drought conditions.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is imposing restrictions on 30 of the state's rivers. On some waterways it will be a complete closures; on others the prohibition takes effect from 2 p.m. until midnight.

The hottest June on record for Oregon and Washington came on the heels an unusually warm winter and spring. Now, Northwest rivers are running at or near all-time lows and cities with water reserves are drawing them down.

Some towns have already issued water advisories and asked residents to cut back voluntarily. Even the cities with lots of water, like Portland and Seattle, are finding they have less to work with.

With more than half of Oregon in a drought emergency, Governor Kate Brown said state agencies can help conserve water for the rest of the state.

A Central Washington Water Project Gets Senate Hearing

Jul 8, 2015

A warming climate is making water more scarce in places that rely on runoff from mountain snowpack -- places like the Yakima River basin in Central Washington.

That’s why a group of about 20 stakeholders have come together to develop a plan to help manage water in this agricultural center. Those stakeholders traditionally haven’t gotten along: environmentalists, farmers, the Yakama Nation tribal leaders, and government officials.

Burned cedars and salal at a property in Woodway, Washington, which has had a ban on fireworks for years.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

The governor’s office says there will be no state ban on fireworks. And local governments won’t be given authority to issue their own bans.

That’s because state law doesn’t permit it. But state law never imagined a heat wave like this to start the summer.

Cities in drought-plagued California took water conservation seriously in May. Residential water use went down by 28.9 percent in May, according to a press release from the State Water Resources Control Board.

This year’s drought is affecting Washington in all kinds of ways. It’s even threatening to make a potential government shutdown more painful. That would happen on July 1 unless a budget agreement is reached.

Jeff Marti, the Washington Department of Ecology’s drought coordinator, says the state won’t be able to grant emergency permits to access water if your well dries up or if river levels drop so low that your pipes no longer reach the water.

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