Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Friday declared a drought emergency, citing historically low snowpack and dwindling rivers.
The arid conditions are threatening crops and fish and could cause more wildfires as snow drops to 16 percent of normal levels and 78 percent of streams run below average, according to a statement from Inslee’s office.
“We’re really starting to feel the pain,” Inslee, a 64-year-old Democrat, said in the statement. “Impacts are already severe in several areas of the state.”
The Western drought that’s gripping California for a fourth year is spreading as climate change accelerates the melting of snowpacks, which supply most water in the western U.S. That’s forced farmers to reduce crop production, struggle to find adequate water and spend thousands to dig deeper wells to tap diminishing groundwater.
Glacier lilies are blooming on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where there would normally be 80 inches of snow, Inslee’s office said in the release. Fish are being hauled upstream to cooler water in the Walla Walla region.
Washington’s farmers are facing an estimated $1.2 billion in crop losses this year, according to the state’s Agriculture Department. Irrigation districts are turning off water to farmers for weeks to conserve supply for later in the year in the Yakima Basin, popular for growing wine grapes and beer hops.