According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, we are in a world of hurt here in what used to be the “wet” part of the state. As they say on the Ecology site, “Our snowpack is virtually gone and more than 80 percent of the rivers measured by the U.S. Geological Survey are flowing at below-normal levels – and in many cases, at record lows.”
This lack of water should be setting off alarms for all of us, for all kinds of reasons. As oceanographer and environmental superhero Sylvia Earle put it, “The single non–negotiable thing life requires is water,” and yet we are fast approaching circumstances where we will need to begin these negotiations in earnest. In the Olympics, the situation is beyond dire… the Dosewallips, one of the major waterways draining the eastern slope of the Olympic range and backdrop of a 3-day river journey I took in 2008, is now barely ankle-deep at its mouth. It would appear that there is not much water to be drained at the moment.
The Cascades are not much better off. I’m in the planning stages for the Puyallup trip I have on the calendar for August, and I am not optimistic about the water levels I expect to encounter. The effects of this parching are going to be incredibly far-reaching, especially if this is the new normal. The role of streams and rivers in the larger water cycle is integral to the health of the system, not only for fresh water, but for the Sound and the ocean as well.