By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency across three regions including key agricultural hubs of the U.S. Northwest State on Friday, citing near record low snowpack levels ahead of the spring runoff.
Watersheds on the Olympic Peninsula, east side of the central Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and Walla Walla region, which are vital to apple and wine production, will be hit hardest with drought conditions, the governor's office said.
Snowpack is a mere 7 percent of normal in the Olympic Mountains. It ranges from 8 to 45 percent of normal across the Cascades, and is 67 percent of normal in the Walla Walla region.
"We can't wait any longer; we have to prepare now for drought conditions that are in store for much of the state," said Inslee. "Snowpack is at record lows, and we have farms, vital agricultural regions, communities and fish that are going to need our support."
An unusually warm winter has caused much of the precipitation to fall as rain, leaving mountain snowpack a fraction of normal. And a healthy snowpack is what would slowly feed rivers across the state and sustains farms and fish through the drier summer months.
Short and long-range weather forecasts are not expected to bring relief, calling for warmer and drier weather.
With snowpack statewide averaging 27 percent of normal, 34 of the state's 62 watersheds are expected to receive less than 75 percent of their normal water supplies.
The Washington Department of Ecology has requested $9 million in drought relief from the legislature. The money would pay for agricultural and fisheries projects, emergency water-right permits, changes to existing water rights, and grant water-right transfers.
For now, water suppliers in the Seattle, Tacoma and Everett areas are in decent shape and are not projecting much hardship, according to the governor's office.
The drought emergency comes as California battles its worst drought in decades.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Richard Chang)