Jan. 17--SAN FRANCISCO -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday officially declared that California is in a drought emergency, as the state struggled with the lowest-levels of rainfall in its 153-year history, reservoirs were at low levels and firefighters remained on high alert.
"We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation," Brown said.
The governor asked Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent. In practical terms, the drought declaration streamlines the rules for water agencies to transfer extra water from one part of the state to another. It also raises public awareness.
"Hopefully it will rain eventually," Brown said. "But in the meantime we have to do our part."
Brown was governor in 1976 and 1977, one of the most severe dry periods in the 20th century. The most recent extended drought was 1987-1992. The last governor to declare a drought declaration was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did so during a period of low rainfall in 2008 and 2009. Brown lifted that declaration in 2011 after a wet winter.
Although California has a Mediterranean climate and periodically experiences drought, current conditions are particularly dry.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack on Thursday was 17 percent of normal. Last year, most cities in the state received the lowest amount of rain in any living person's lifetime -- with records going back to 1850.
For the past 13 months, a huge ridge of high-pressure in the atmosphere has sat off the West Coast, blocking storms that normally would bring rain during winter months.
As a result, reservoir levels are low, farmers and ranchers are suffering, and fire danger is at an extreme level.
On Thursday, the outlook worsened, as the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly update of drought conditions by federal agencies and researchers at the University of Nebraska, classified large sections of Northern California, including the Bay Area, as the fourth most severe of five drought categories: "extreme drought."
The update showed that 63 percent of California's land is in "extreme drought" now, including the Bay Area, up from 27 percent the week before. Worse, scientists at the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center in Maryland issued a 90-day preciptiation outlook that said it is likely that California will continue to receive below-normal rainfall at least through April.
Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN
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Original headline: California drought emergency declared by Gov. Jerry Brown
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