Lake Cle Elum

FILE — Lake Cle Elum, pictured on June 22, 2020, is one of the reservoirs that supplies water to the Yakima River Basin. 

Yakima County isn’t as parched as most counties across the state this year, thanks to plentiful water storage in the Yakima River Basin, water supply experts say.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency across much of the state with the exception of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett.

This comes as wildfires feed on dry fuels across the state in the wake of the third driest spring on record over the past 110 years, said Bureau of Reclamation Operations Engineer Chris Lynch.

Although Yakima is included in the emergency declaration, the county’s water supply is in great shape and growers are still expected to receive full allocations this irrigation season, he said.

“We’ll have enough water to meet both senior and junior water rights,” Lynch said.

Senior water rights take priority over junior water rights, which are prorated during short water years. The most recent year that happened was 2019. The Kittitas Reclamation District was forced to shut down delivery early that year, while Roza Irrigation District farmers scraped by through mid-October, just before the end of the water season. Lower-than-expected temperatures that summer helped.

This year, Yakima County has good water storage in the basin’s five reservoirs, Lynch said. The reservoirs are Keechelus, Kachess, Cle Elum, Rimrock and Bumping lakes.

“We’re very, very fortunate,” he said. “People should recognize how thankful they should be and grateful.”

There’s more than 1-million-acre feet of water stored in those reservoirs and it takes about 2.5-million-acre feet to fully supply farmers in the Yakima basin, he said.

Some of our reservoirs are near the crest of the Cascades, where snowpack was good, Lynch said.

That’s the same reason Seattle and Tacoma — both supplied by Cascade reservoirs — largely remain unscathed by the lack of spring precipitation and record-setting temperatures in June.

That’s not the case for many areas that lack such water storage, Lynch said.

But some lower tributaries are drying out, said Jeff Marti, Ecology’s water resource planner and drought coordinator.

Those tributaries include Manastash and Wenas creeks and the Ahtanum Irrigation District, which are all running low, he said.

“As we get later into summer and early fall, some of those tributaries can be problematic for fish as well,” Marti said.

Rising water temperatures can be lethal for fish.

The drought declaration allows the state to speed up processing of emergency drought permits, process temporary water rights transfers and provide funding to public entities.

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @philipferolito

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