Governor Jay Inslee issued the proclamation, labelling it a product of the climate crisis.
“This is the summer of climate change,” he said at a press conference, where he was joined by Laura Watson, the director of the state’s Department of Ecology. The declaration covers all of Washington, aside from Seattle, Tacoma and Everett.
He continued, “This is not political hyperbole. It is a scientific consensus that is jarring the life of every Washingtonian in some way.”
Last week’s report from the World Weather Attribution ruled that these conditions would be “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change”.
A drought emergency is called when the water level averages are estimated to be below 75 per cent. It gives the Department of Ecology the authority to impose emergency help measures, such as short-term shifts of water rights and the ability to give money to public bodies. The same emergency drought declaration was called in both 2015 and 2019.
In recent weeks, the state, and the wider Pacific Northwest region, has experienced record-breaking temperatures, ranging from 37C to 47C. According to research from the University of Nebraska, 60 per cent of the western US is in a drought. This includes states such as California, Oregon, and Arizona. Provinces in Canada, including British Columbia, have also been dealing with similar heatwave conditions.
According to the US Drought Monitor, 95 per cent of the state is abnormally dry or officially in a drought. While 57.7 per cent of Washington is believed to be in either severe, extreme or exceptional drought.
In May, Washington declared a drought advisory following one of the driest springs since records began 127 years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
According to data released this week from the Washington Department of Health, 91 people are believed to have died due to the heatwave, a rise of 13 from last week, when the total stood at 78. The death toll for the entire affected Northwest is thought be more than 800, according to KUOW, a local affiliate of NPR.
State senators, such as Republican Mark Schoesler, criticised Governor Inslee for not declaring a drought emergency sooner. He said that farmers have been dealing with the consequences of the problem for months.
“While the governor’s drought declaration is welcome and expected news, it is long overdue for our part of the state,” the representative for the 9th Legislative District said.
“Farmers throughout eastern Washington have known since early this spring that we are facing a serious drought problem in our region, and the very hot and dry summer so far has just made it worse.”
Ms Watson said the conditions had not been met until very recently to declare a drought emergency.
Last week, Governor Inslee issued another emergency declaration about the wildfires in the state. Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, said 2021 was “likely to be the worst of the last five years”, and urged residents to follow the ‘no bonfire’ mandate.
“If our new normal brings months without a drop of rain and one extreme heat wave after another, there’s no technology or amount of resources that will be able to match the on-the-ground reality our firefighters are facing,” she said at the press conference last week.