Kitsap likely to dodge drought

As winter ends, many Washington communities are on alert for coming drought conditions. Kitsap, however, is not likely to be one of those communities.

POULSBO — As winter becomes a memory, many communities in Washington state are on alert for coming drought conditions following a relatively dry season.

Kitsap, however, is not likely to be one of those communities. In fact, Kitsap has seen more than its fair share of water this season.

“Essentially, most of the peninsula uses ground water. We don’t rely on rivers, lakes and snow melt,” said Keith Svarthumle, water purveyor for the City of Poulsbo. “That’s why it’s not as critical to us in comparison to other places that rely on surface water.”

That reliance has other Washington regions, such as the Olympic Peninsula, facing more severe conditions and drought as they enter spring and summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-istration (NOAA) also expressed such concerns for some of Washington’s areas, where an overly dry summer is likely. A recent graphic from NOAA spread across social media in March, listing much of western Washington as likely to experience drought conditions this season; some areas more intensely than others.

“In (Washington) and in California, the problem this winter is that there has been a quite a bit of precipitation, but it’s been warm enough to fall as rain instead of snow pack,” said Anthony Artusa, a meteorologist with NOAA.

“In April, you would like to have a nice healthy snow pack. Once May rolls around and you have the dry season, you don’t have access to the water you need from snow pack as it gradually melts.”

Snow pack in the Olympic Mountains is just 7 percent of normal this year. The lack of available water can increase the dangers of forest fires, affects salmon habitat and create struggles for the farming industry.

Artusa said that a ridge of high pressure kept weather relatively dry this winter, preventing moisture from falling on the mountains in Washington. What moisture did make it to Washington was not cold enough to fall as snow. That snow acts like stored water for the summer. As the snow melts in the mountains, that water flows down stream where communities rely on it.

“It’s a water supply concern,” Artusa said. “California is a more extreme example but it definitely applies in Washington’s case as well.”

He added, “The bottom line is that it’s starting to get dry and there are some reports of moderate drought. We think that drought is likely to persist and intensify for western Washington and in surrounding areas.”

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency in three key areas of Washington in March, including the Walla Walla region, east of the central Cascade Mountains, and the Olympic Peninsula.

But Kitsap is unique from its neighbors. Decades ago, Svarthumle notes, the region did rely on surface water and springs. That led to water restrictions during more demanding summers. But that changed as communities turned to groundwater.

As a lowland peninsula with no mountains, and therefore no snow pack, the water for Kitsap’s communities chiefly comes from aquifers deep underground. Those aquifers are fed by rainfall that slowly seeps beneath the ground to recharge them. And Kitsap has had plenty of rain in recent seasons.

“We’ve seen higher than normal rainfall in north Kitsap,” said Bob Hunter, general manager of the Kitsap Public Utility District, which operates water systems for much of the county.

“Actually, if it continues in the manner it has, we will see record rainfall. As far as the rest of the county goes, we’ve seen pretty normal rainfall.

“As far as drought in Kitsap, there is none,” Hunter said.