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News / Clark County News

Clark County likely won’t feel drought despite being covered in declaration

Though state has declared emergency, most local drinking water comes from groundwater sources

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 6, 2024, 6:05am

Although Clark County — and the rest of Washington — has seen its share of rainy days in the last month, drought conditions persist. On April 16, the state Department of Ecology declared a drought emergency for nearly all of Washington, with some major metro areas excluded. The agency is making up to $4.5 million available in drought response grants to qualifying public agencies.

The state’s low snowpack totals aren’t likely to improve now that winter snowstorms are behind us and expectations are for a warm, dry spring. Statewide, snowpack remains around 71 percent of normal.

“With chances for significant additions to our snowpack now diminishing, there is simply not enough water contained in mountain snow and reservoirs to prevent serious impacts for water users in the months ahead,” Department of Ecology officials said in a press release.

Clark County rainfall numbers tell a similar story. According to the National Weather Service, Vancouver saw about 2 inches of rain in April. That’s only about 70 percent of the 2.93 inches the area typically gets in April. For the month of March, Vancouver had 3.07 inches of rain, or 78 percent of the 3.95 inches it normally gets.

Water-Conservation Tips

The Washington Department of Ecology offers these tips for saving water:

  • Use a leak-free, high-efficiency toilet.
  • Turn off the water while shaving or brushing teeth to save up to 4 gallons of water per minute.
  • Take a short shower instead of a bath.
  • Wash only full loads of dishes, and select the appropriate water level or load-size option on the dishwasher.
  • Thaw foods overnight in the refrigerator rather than using water to defrost.
  • Scrape rather than rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.
  • Keep drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cool.

For more water-saving tips, visit ecology.wa.gov/issues-and-local-projects/education-training/what-you-can-do/water-conservation online.

But unless drought conditions worsen considerably, most Clark County residents likely won’t feel any impact.

“Nearly all of the drinking water in Clark County is from groundwater sources through wells — both individual wells and for public water systems,” Marissa Armstrong, spokesperson for Clark County Public Health, said Wednesday. “Wells can be impacted by drought — particularly shallow wells. However, it’s not as easy to observe or predict water supply impacts for wells as it is surface water drinking sources.”

The same holds true for Clark Public Utilities.

“The water utility shouldn’t be directly impacted by drought,” utility spokesman Dameon Pesanti said. “We’re a 100 percent groundwater-based system, and the majority of our supply comes from tidally influenced aquifers, which are not susceptible to drought conditions.”

Pesanti said one indirect impact from decreased rainfall could be an increased demand for irrigation.

While Clark County isn’t taking any specific actions related to the ongoing drought conditions, Armstrong said Public Health always recommends conserving water.

“Once a well runs dry, the costs for adding water storage or drilling a new well are significant,” Armstrong said.

If well owners are experiencing water-supply issues, Armstrong said, they should consult with a well driller or well-water services provider to determine if more direct measures beyond conservation may be needed.

“In years past, we have seen areas within Clark County where well owners were experiencing problems with their water supply,” Armstrong said. “In some cases, well owners had to pay for water delivery or drill new wells to provide water to their properties.”

Pesanti said Clark Public Utilities is also encouraging its customers to use water wisely this summer.

“Not only will it help conserve this very important resource, but it also helps reduce the strain on our customer-owned infrastructure,” Pesanti said, adding that conservation is “the right thing to do, drought or no.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.