Washington State Declares Drought Emergency

Key Peninsula residents are advised to follow water conservation recommendations as late spring and summer temperatures rise.


The Washington State Department of Ecology issued a statewide drought emergency in April. The drought declaration did not affect the cities of Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma because they have set aside substantial reservoirs.

“Washington started the year with a snowpack deficit following the drought declared in July 2023. The eighth hottest winter on record since 1895 has led to early snowmelt,” wrote Laura Watson, director of Ecology. “Forecasts predict continued warm temperatures in spring and summer, with a low likelihood that conditions will improve during that period.”

Runoff in watersheds across the state is projected to be below 75% of normal. That decrease could result in small and more vulnerable public water systems needing to truck water or deepen wells, limit irrigation of agricultural lands, and could also affect fish migration.

While some communities get water directly from surface water sources such as rivers, the water on the Key Peninsula comes from groundwater through wells. According to the county health department, there are 1,813 individual wells, 315 Group B systems (two or more connections serving up to 25 individuals), and 92 Group A systems. The county oversees individual and Group B systems, and the state oversees Group A systems.

Washington is divided into 62 Water Resource Inventory Areas. The Key and Kitsap Peninsulas are in WRIA 15, with its water coming primarily from groundwater. “Water on the Key Peninsula comes solely from the local rain,” wrote Public Information Officer Roberto Bonaccorso, Washington State Department of Health Resiliency & Health Security.

“While drought will certainly impact groundwater over time, it is not as immediate a response as a surface water source to drought. Groundwater levels will depend as much or more on people’s use of water during warm months that impact drawdown,” Bonaccorso wrote.

The effect of drought on groundwater levels may not be as immediate as it is on surface water, but Bonaccorso strongly endorsed following the recommendations from the state and county to conserve water.

Here are suggestions from Ecology on water conservation:

Water use can be significantly reduced by repairing leaks in fixtures, pipes, and toilets. A leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons per day.

Over half the water used inside homes is in the bathroom. Toilets account for nearly 30% of that use. Use a leak-free, high-efficiency toilet, and use a wastebasket, not a toilet, for trash. Turn off the water while shaving or brushing teeth – that will save up to 200 gallons a week for a family of four. Turn off the water while you lather when you are washing your hands. Take short showers – not baths – limiting showers to under 5 minutes can save up to 1,000 gallons a month.

In the kitchen, wash only full loads of dishes. Scrape rather than rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Do not use water to defrost frozen foods – thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Compost food waste. Keep drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cool.

For laundry, wash only full loads or use the appropriate water level or load size selection on the washing machine. Consider purchasing a high-efficiency washing machine, which can save over 50% on water and energy use.

In the United States, 30% of water is used outdoors, and in the hot summer months, it can be as high as 70%. Landscaping with native and drought-tolerant plants can have a big impact on water use. A healthy lawn can go dormant and will turn green when rains return. Other suggestions include using a timer to avoid overwatering, soaker hoses to avoid evaporation, and collecting rainwater. Use a broom or blower rather than a hose to clean sidewalks.

For more information, go to ecology.wa.gov.