The Methow watershed is now officially declared under a drought emergency, part of the 12 counties across the state facing a similar declaration by the Washington Department of Ecology on July 24th. The Okanogan watershed is also under a drought emergency.
The drought declaration is prompted when the water supply falls below 75% of normal, leading to potential hardships for irrigators, households, and businesses. While the declaration serves as a warning about the critically low water supplies, it does not impose mandatory water usage restrictions. However, the declaration enables the Ecology to process emergency water-right permits and transfers for irrigators and access the $3 million emergency grants from new state legislation, supporting communities, tribes, irrigation districts, and public entities impacted by the drought.
The Methow watershed's junior water-right holders, primarily irrigators, have experienced curtailments in water withdrawals since late June. The unusually early shut-off, compared to previous years, could prompt junior irrigators to apply for emergency water rights with the help of the drought declaration. The current drought has been anticipated, with May and June experiencing significantly warmer and drier conditions than usual since 1895. The early melting of the snowpack that usually sustains the Methow and Okanogan rivers through the summer and fall led to a significant reduction in water levels.
The Methow Watershed Council is currently working on a project to understand the impacts of water scarcity, enabling better mitigation strategies before the next drought.