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Official drought determined by governor under advisory of specialists

Earlier this month when Gov. Christine Gregoire called for a drought emergency across the state, her decision was based on information from a panel of experts on the Washington State Executive Water Emergency Committee.

Rick Koenig, a soils specialist at Washington State University's Pullman campus, serves on that committee, which is also known as the Drought Response Team.

"In Washington it's up to the governor to make the decision to call for an emergency drought year," said Koenig.

The committee, which is made up of experts from groups that watch the snowpack, as well as the Department of Ecology, looks at trends to help determine early on if there will be a drought year.

He said there are two factors the committee looks at when making a recommendation to the governor. First, the group looks at water supply, and following closely on the heels of that consideration, is whether or not a decrease in water supply will cause a hardship on people.

Currently, the water supply is less than 75 percent of the normal amount, said Koenig. Seventy-five percent of normal is the magic number the committee has to wait for before they can begin looking at the possibility of calling for a drought year.

"It was pretty clear this year was going to be a drought year," said Koenig.

Koenig said that the snowpack is less than 25 percent of normal years and that in some areas it's even worse.

"The precipitation total in February was at its driest in history," said Koenig.

Until last week, the amount of rain received in Washington was alarming.

"The recent rain is going to help, but even if we have normal precipitation from here on out we aren't going to have enough water," he said.

He said later this month people from the Department of Agriculture, Farm Service agents, United States Department of Agriculture, crop insurance officials and those working with dry lands will be meeting to discuss how to respond to this year's drought, which has already been compared to the drought of 1976-1977 and 2001.

"February precipitation in Western Washington was not as bad as in February 2001. Eastern Washington precipitation this year is as bad or worse than 2001. The report is we should be headed into a more normal precipitation for spring," he said.

He added that concerns by the Department of Ecology and the drought's impact on fish will also be taken into consideration.

Although the drought has been compared to one of the worst ever, Koenig said that statewide the drought will be handled differently.

He added that the weather from here on out will have an impact on the summer.

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