SAN FRANCISCO – Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a drought emergency in California as the state struggles with the least amount of rainfall in its 153-year history, reservoir levels fall and firefighters remain on high alert.
“We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation,” said Brown, who asked California residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20 percent. “Hopefully, it will rain eventually. But in the meantime, we have to do our part.”
The drought declaration also streamlines the rules for water agencies to transfer extra water from one part of the state to another, easing shortages. It also directs the state to hire more seasonal firefighters, limits the landscaping of highways and raises public awareness.
Brown was governor in 1976 and 1977, one of California’s most severe dry periods in the 20th century. The most recent extended drought was from 1987 to 1992.
The last California governor to declare a drought emergency 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.
The state won’t hesitate to redirect whatever resources are necessary, Brown said. “When the house is burning down,” he said, “you have to pour water on the fire, and if that costs money, we’ll spend money.”
Although California has a Mediterranean climate and periodically experiences drought, current conditions are particularly dry.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack Thursday was 17 percent of normal. And last year, most cities in the state received the lowest amount of rain in any living Californian’s lifetime. The rainfall records go back to 1850.
For the past 13 months, a huge high-pressure ridge in the atmosphere has sat off the West Coast, diverting storms that normally would bring winter rain northward to Canada.
As a result, reservoir levels are low, farmers and ranchers are suffering, and fire danger is at an extreme level.