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Drought In Wash. Could Bring More Sting To A Government Shutdown

This year’s drought is affecting Washington in all kinds of ways. It’s even threatening to make a potential government shutdown more painful. That would happen on July 1 unless a budget agreement is reached.

Jeff Marti, the Washington Department of Ecology’s drought coordinator, says the state won’t be able to grant emergency permits to access water if your well dries up or if river levels drop so low that your pipes no longer reach the water.

“It means that the folks who did need an emergency water right authorization would have to wait that much longer until we get back in business,” Marti said.

There also won’t be anyone to enforce state water restrictions or look into illegal water use complaints.

Marti says in past droughts the legislature also appropriates funds for the Department of Ecology to provide grants to public utility districts, municipalities and irrigation districts that need to build emergency drought infrastructure. That's not happening unless a budget is passed.

He says the department has moved money internally to fund projects in the Yakima Basin that will help farmers drill emergency wells. But, he says, money is too tight for much more shuffling around.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife would still manage species that are endangered or threatened, like salmon and steelhead. But it could stop operating hatcheries for trout and other non-protected fish. According to a contingency plan, department officials worry that could endanger fish in those hatcheries.

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<p>Washington state lawmakers have until next week to pin down a budget. If they don&rsquo;t, parts of state government will shut down. In the midst of a drought, that could have ramifications for farmers and for fish.</p>

Devan Schwartz/OPB

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Washington state lawmakers have until next week to pin down a budget. If they don’t, parts of state government will shut down. In the midst of a drought, that could have ramifications for farmers and for fish.

Courtney Flatt