Jerry Brown Declares A Drought Emergency In California

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Friday, amid growing concerns about future water supplies for residents and for farmers. Brown called for a 20 percent voluntary reduction in water use and eased water transfer rights between farmers. However, mandatory measures will still be left to local communities to impose, for now.

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In California, Governor Jerry Brown has signed an emergency drought declaration, saying his state is seeing the driest weather in about a century. This is California's third consecutive dry year with no appreciable rain in sight. As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, cities and counties across the state are taking drastic measures.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: January is usually a wet month in California but there's hardly been a hint of rain. Throughout the state, from the coast to the inland valleys to the mountains, residents are beginning to see what those parched conditions really mean.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: Today, I'm declaring a drought emergency in the state of California because we're facing perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records began being kept about a hundred years ago.

GONZALES: With that declaration, Brown urged state residents to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20 percent.

BROWN: This takes a coming together of all the people of California to deal with this serious and prolonged event of nature.

GONZALES: Brown has been under growing pressure to respond to reports of bone-dry reservoirs and an alarmingly low snow pack. Today's announcement stopped short of imposing any mandatory conservation measures. For now, mandatory water restrictions are being left to individual cities. The Sacramento City Council, this week, voted to require residents to reduce consumption by between 20 to 30 percent. The city plans to dispatch a team of monitors to enforce rules restricting outdoor irrigation and car washing. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $1,000.

In the Central Valley, the state's ag industry praised the governor's declaration. Gayle Holman is a spokeswoman for the Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the country. She says, the declaration will ease some environmental rules governing water allocations.

GAYLE HOLMAN: With this drought declaration, it provides flexibility and easing of some of the regulations that prohibit water flowing south of the delta to ag districts like Westlands.

GONZALES: Environmentalists are also hailing the governor's action. Kate Poole is an attorney with the National Resource Defense Council's water program. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The name of the organization is Natural Resources Defense Council.] She says today's declaration could be a boost for long-term conservation and water storage efforts.

KATE POOLE: The governor, for one, has a big bully pulpit. And so making sure that everybody in the state is aware that we're in tough situation in terms of our water supplies and does what they can to cut back on water use is very important.

GONZALES: California isn't the only state grappling with drought. Federal officials are designating portions of 11 western and central states as primary natural disaster areas due to the lack of rain. The move means that farmers in those areas can qualify for low-interest emergency loans.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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Correction Feb. 4, 2014

In this story, we misidentify the organization for which attorney Kate Poole works. It is the Natural Resources Defense Council, not the National Resource Defense Council.

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