drought

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This summer’s extreme drought is becoming increasingly deadly for fish in the northwest.

The state department of Fish and Wildlife had already lost about one and a half million juvenile fish in overheated rivers and streams in Washington at the end of July, due to this summer’s historically warm temperatures and low water levels.

Erin Hennessey / KPLU

Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have activated their water shortage response plans. The hot, dry weather has increased demand for water just as river levels are at historic lows. Seattle Public Utilities, Tacoma Public Utilities and the city of Everett issued a joint  release announcing the implementation of the first stage of the response plans.

The clouds and cooler temperatures might have some Seattle homeowners thinking it’s okay to get out those sprinklers and garden hoses again and bring the green back to their lawns.

Actually, it’s still pretty hot out there and the small amount of rain coming in won’t make much of a difference.  Seattle Public Utilities recently changed the water supply outlook from “good” to “fair ” because people are using more water this summer due to the unprecedented heat.

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Last month was the driest June on record for the wettest part of Washington State.

The Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park got .17 inches of rain last month. That’s less than half the previous record low from 1961 and well under the four inches that falls in an average June.

Ranger Jon Preston collects daily measurements at the visitors center there. He says the region started drying out in May. 

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The major water utilities in the Puget Sound area are telling customers the water supply is in good shape for the drought. But for thousands who depend on springs or shallow wells, the outlook is not as certain. 

More than two-thirds of the state’s population is served by big water systems. Take Seattle, Tacoma and Everett – their utilities have saved plenty of water in their extensive reservoir and storage systems. They’ve asked customers to conserve, but haven’t recommended any extreme measures. 

But according to Ginny Stern, a hydrogeologist with the State Department of Health, for nearly 27,000 people statewide, it’s a different story.

“There are a large number of very small systems that can’t connect to larger water supply, it wouldn’t be economically feasible. you can’t run the pipe run the pipe far enough," Stern said. 

Mark MacIntyre / EPA

The wetlands and tributaries which supply major waterways also must be protected, the federal Environmental Protection Agency ruled last month when it expanded the Clean Water Act to regulate upstream pollution. 

This expansion the landmark 1972 environmental law -- which has joint backing from the Army Corps of Engineers -- was celebrated in Seattle Thursday by a handful of  environmental advocacy groups including WASHPIRG  and Environment Washington.  They joined EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran  at the Fremont Brewing Company to talk about the importance of clean water for businesses such as micro-breweries and agriculture. 

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The Washington Commissioner of Public Lands said warmer than usual weather has not only increased the wildfire risk, it also has increased the likelihood that firefighting resources across the west will be stretched thin come summer.

“We need to be more self sufficient ,” Commissioner Peter Goldmark said.

He said so many communities are struggling with drought that the state can’t count on outside help if wildfires strike.

“In the past, sometimes we’ve been able to rely on contract resources or other states," Goldmark said. "But because of the widespread nature of the drought, and the ensuing fire potential, we can no longer count on other states or adjacent states or other entities coming to help us.”

That’s why he is requesting an additional $4.5 million dollars to pay for emergency staffing and equipment. That’s on top of an unprecedented ask for $20-million for longer-term forest health work, thinning stands and making public forests more resistant to wildfire.

Goldmark says last year’s Carlton Complex Fire was the worst he has ever seen.  The current draught declarations combined with this year’s warmer than normal forecast for the summer is making him nervous.

Goldmark says he won't count on help from anyone this season. Last year, the deadly Carlton Complex required help from 40 states.  

Tim Hamilton / Flickr

If you were out in shorts last weekend, slathering on sunscreen, be prepared for a different kind of weather this Saturday and Sunday.

“There won’t be a lot of sun tomorrow for most of Western Washington. Maybe a few sunbreaks, but not much more than that,” says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. “This is going to be kind of a so-so, middle-of-the-road weekend.”

Aaron Brethorst

A week of rain has turned what was a dry summer into a normal one, says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass.

But don’t let the clouds and drizzle get you down. Mass says the forecast will progressively warmer and sunnier over the weekend.

Jim Stiles

We’re getting the “weather we need,” so get ready for a wet and windy weekend, says KPLU expert Cliff Mass.

“Our water supply was well below normal,” said Mass, who teaches atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. “Very rapidly, the snowpack is getting replenished in the mountains. The reservoirs are filling. And by the end of this week, I don’t think we’ll have to worry water for this summer or the coming fall.”

PROSSER, Wash. – Most of us may be enjoying the fall sunshine, but Northwest wheat farmers are instead wishing for a little rain.

Nicole Berg digs her clean-up-to-now nails into the dry crusty soil on her farm.

About four to five inches down, there still isn’t any hint of past rain.

A few farmers did get some showers. Despite high-tech forecasts, Berg says often knowing when to plant still comes down to a hunch, decades of experience and an old wheat farmer adage.

The people who raise cattle destined to become steak or hamburger on your dinner plate are feeling the pinch. Wildfires this summer have scorched more than a million acres of Northwest rangeland. In addition, the Midwest drought is driving up feed costs across the board.

Now ranches and feedlots are looking to cut their feed costs in the short term... And longer term, have an eye on making the cattle themselves more efficient.