2015 drought damage estimate was way off — it’s much worse

2015 drought damage estimate was way off — it’s much worse.
Growers across the state lost $700 million as a result of Washington’s 2015 drought — far more than an early $85 million estimate, a state report estimates.
But officials also say the revised valuation may be too low when it comes to the complete economic impact of the drought — total losses could be as high as $1.2 billion.
“In a state that produces 300 commodities, it’s hard to determine all the drought effects.” Rapid snowmelt, high temperatures and one of the driest years on record hit growers, especially those with junior water rights, especially hard in 2015 as they scrambled to recover profits from lower yields and lower-quality fruit.
Growers, water management officials and legislators need to keep the tough lessons of drought years front of mind even when water is more bountiful, experts say.
The planning that happens in years with healthy water levels helps to prevent losses similar to those growers experienced in 2015, said Washington Tree Fruit Association president Jon DeVaney.
The analysis, released in February — more than a year after the drought — comes at a perfect time to serve as motivation for increased investment in irrigation, such as through the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, which aims to improve river flows, habitat and fish passages in addition to increasing water storage.
Efforts to ensure a reliable water supply during drought conditions are already underway.
For example, the Department of Agriculture has already started planning its future drought response based on findings from the study, McLain said.
The 2015 study allows the agency to devise drought plans, but continued study in successive drought years is needed to determine effectiveness.

Learn More