Washington State

House of Representatives

Office of Program Research



Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee

HB 2863

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

Brief Description: Concerning the administrative rules governing the provision of emergency drought relief funds for drinking water supply projects.

Sponsors: Representatives McCabe, Blake, Chandler, Dent and Johnson.

Brief Summary of Bill

  • Provides the Department of Ecology with specific factors to consider, and make provisions for, when adopting either emergency or permanent rules relating to drinking water supply projects funded from the State Drought Preparedness Account.

Hearing Date: 2/2/16

Staff: Jason Callahan (786-7117).


The Department of Ecology (DOE) is authorized to declare drought emergencies by administrative order. Before it can declare a drought emergency, the DOE must determine an area is experiencing or expected to experience less than 75 percent of normal water supply and is expected to suffer undue hardships as a result of the dry conditions. Normal water supply is calculated as the average amount of water available on an annual basis based on precipitation, streamflow, snowpack, and other factors. Prior to issuing an order, the DOE must first consult with federal and state agencies and receive the approval of the Governor.

The DOE may, upon the issuance of an order, take certain actions. These include the authorization of emergency withdrawals of public surface and ground waters as long as the withdrawals are put to beneficial use and will not reduce flows below the essential minimum for fisheries and other state and federal interests. The issuance of a drought order also allows the DOE to approve temporary changes in the use of a water right, employ additional people, acquire emergency equipment, and revise any drought contingency plans.

The drought order also allows the DOE to make loans or grants from emergency water supply funds when necessary to help alleviate drought conditions. These expenditures are made from the bond-supported State Emergency Water Projects Revolving Account. In addition to that account, the DOE manages the appropriation-supported State Drought Preparedness Account (Preparedness Account). Funds in the Preparedness Account may be used by the DOE only for drought preparedness.

In response to the 2015 drought, the 2015 Legislature approved $16 million in drought relief funding for use in 2015 and 2016. As of the end of 2015, the DOE had spent or committed $6.7 million of that appropriation.

The DOE adopted emergency rules outlining how the funds could be spent. These rules authorize funding to public bodies for projects designed to alleviate hardship arising from drought conditions which may affect public health and safety or cause significant economic or environmental impacts. Authorized project types include municipal drinking water supply projects, agricultural activity projects, and projects that maintain instream flows to protect fish and wildlife habitat. The types of public entities authorized to receive drought funding include any federal agency, state agency, local agency, political subdivision, taxing district, or municipal corporation, and federally recognized Indian tribes.

The emergency rules require projects to meet specified criteria in order to qualify for funding. This includes an analyses of:

The emergency rules give funding priority to proposed projects which incorporate elements that most effectively conserve water, represent the more efficient use of available water supplies, and that will address shortages that pose the greatest hardship arising from drought conditions. Priority is also given to applicants who demonstrate the clearest need for alternate emergency water supplies to avoid undue hardship, but only if the proposed project will address the need before the current drought declaration expires. That need is measured by:

Summary of Bill:

The DOE is provided with specific factors to consider and make provisions for when adopting either emergency or permanent rules relating to drinking water supply projects funded from the Preparedness Account. The first factor that the DOE must consider is the time required for a project sponsor to complete a drinking water project. This consideration must include a recognition of the level of complexity of drinking water projects that can affect the time it takes to complete a project, including the time it takes to satisfy the permit requirements of the DOE and the Department of Health.

The second factor the DOE must consider is the benefits of the project from the time the project is completed beyond the time that the current drought declaration ends. This includes a consideration of the time it will take for the project sponsor's water supply to return to normal, even if that time is beyond the end of the drought declaration.

The third factor the DOE must consider is project benefits that provide both short-term relief from the current drought and long-term solutions to drinking water issues. These long-term solutions include ways to preempt and manage undue hardships related to future or persistent low water supply events.

Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Available.

Effective Date: The bill takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the session in which the bill is passed.