Washington's drought emergency will hit the state's most vulnerable residents hardest

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee might have declared a statewide drought emergency on Friday, but that emergency is more immediate for some of his constituents—like those in Yakima County—than for others.

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The Los Angeles Times notes that the drought affecting Washington is a snowpack drought and not a rain drought—unlike California, which is currently experiencing both.

"Snowpack is down to just 16% of normal," Inslee said Friday. "This is an unprecedented low. Several mountain areas have already melted out and have little to no measurable snow left… On the Olympic Peninsula, where there would normally be 80 inches of snow today in the mountains, the glacier lilies are blooming."

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The historically low snowpack will dramatically affect bodies of water throughout the state, and the New York Times reports that the water levels of rivers and streams are "drying to a trickle not seen since the 1950s." The water-deprived state will also be more vulnerable to what Gov. Inslee expects to be an "intense" wildfire season.

Not every community within the state will feel the full effects of the drought, however.

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Washington's Department of Ecology Director, Maia Bellon, told the LA Times that a number of areas that rely on large, rain-fed reservoirs for their water supplies—and not melting snowpack—won't experience a drastic dip in their resources.

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Regions spared from the drought include the heavily populated metropolitan areas surrounding Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett. These cities are all located in either King or Snohomish Counties, which happen to be the two wealthiest counties in the state by median household income estimates.

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This correlation between the effects of the drought and community wealth also plays out inversely. Yakima County's estimated 2013 median household income estimate was nearly $30k lower than King's, and more than 20 percent of Yakima's population lived below the poverty line that year, according to the US Census Bureau.

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The LA Times notes that the Yakima Basin, which falls in Yakima County, is Washington's "most productive agricultural region." But farmers in the region have experienced weeks-long delays in water deliveries as a result of the drought, and an estimated $1.2 billion loss in crop revenues is expected.

Yakima County is also home to a significant portion of the state's non-white Hispanic/Latino-identified residents, who make up 11.9% of Washington's total population.

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To recap: Lower-income residents will likely be disproportionately affected by the drought, Hispanic and Latino residents will likely be disproportionately affected by the drought, farmers will likely be disproportionately affected by the drought, and lower-income farmers who identify as Hispanic or Latino will likely be disproportionately affected by the drought.

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Hopefully, their state government will be just as likely to assist them in the coming months.

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