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Washington has highest percentage of drought land in West, faces high fire risk

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(The Center Square) – Washington, facing a greater-than-usual fire risk, has the highest percentage of drought land among Western states.

“As we head into the hottest weeks of the summer, we want people to use water wisely and to be aware of our water supply,” said Jeff Marti, state Department of Ecology water resources planner, in a July 5 drought advisory.

More than 51% of Washington’s land was in a drought as of July 11, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is the highest percentage of land in a drought among 11 states from Colorado to the West Coast, with Oregon ranking second with more than 48% of drought land and Idaho in third place with more than 24% of drought land.

“Severe drought,” the next-worse level than “moderate drought,” affects much of King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties. It also reaches parts of Chelan, Kittitas, Pend-Oreille and Stevens counties.

The state Department of Natural Resources has seen more than 600 fires burn in excess of 3,100 acres so far this year, according to its wildfire dashboard. Officials have been telling residents to prepare, as the National Interagency Coordination Center predicts almost the entire state of Washington will see an above-normal fire risk from July to September.

Washington spent $83 million on average on fire suppression annually from 2015 to 2019, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, and in 2021, it dedicated $500 million over eight years to fire preparedness and prevention.

The state only saw 8% of its land in a drought last year, as reported by Capital Press. But the warmest May on record caused an early snowmelt, leaving 75% less water for most snow-fed rivers and streams throughout the summer, according to the drought advisory.

“Our warm weather arrived a few weeks early this year and really kicked the runoff into overdrive,” Marti said.

Washington is also drier because from April 25 to June 23, it saw less than 50% of its normal precipitation. The water supply could fall even more if South-Central Washington sees heat waves, Chris Lynch, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation river operations engineer, told the Capital Press.

While irrigators in the Skagit and Yakima basins have been struggling with a lack of water, most cities had not seen widespread effects of the drought, according to the drought advisory. Cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Everett had been reporting enough drinking water.

According to the drought advisory, anyone who notices drought conditions should report them to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

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