Gov. Jerry Brown holds a chart showing statewide average precipitation as he speaks during a news conference on January 17, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Gov. Brown declared a drought state of emergency for California as the state faces water shortfalls in what is expected to be the driest year in state history. Residents are being asked to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20 percent. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
After weeks of no rain, Governor Brown issued a formal drought declaration for California Friday morning.
The announcement was made at a 9 a.m. news conference in San Francisco, and comes amid one of the driest periods on record in California.
"We can't make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California's drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas," said Governor Brown. "I've declared this emergency and I'm calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible."
The governor says we all have to pitch in to get through this drought.
"Conservation by all citizens, by those in rural areas and those in our cities -- everyone should try to do at least 20 percent consevation," Brown said.
But for now, that conservation is going to be voluntary.
The governor says he will re-evaluate the situation later and determine if mandatory conservation is needed.
Today's declaration also makes it easier for the state to shift water from Northern to Southern California. It also means the federal government can step in with aid for the hardest hit California communities.
Brown also directed state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters.
The last official drought declaration in California was in 2008 under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The current situation is said to be considerably worse than the situation six years ago with 62 percent of the state in "extreme drought" conditions, according to federal officials.
Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui welcomed the drought declaration, saying "Although this situation is challenging, it will hopefully bring positive change to California's outdated water system. The change many of us are looking for is for the entire state to have reliable water and environmental protection, including communities north of the Delta that are experiencing critical shortages."
State Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, also from Sacramento said "I look forward to working with my legislative colleagues and the Governor on immediate actions that should also guide long-term water policy in California."
Senator Dianne Feinstein said she applauds Gov. Brown's decision to issue a drought declaration. Feinstein said this week, she and fellow California Senator Barbara Boxer, "called on President Obama to approve a federal disaster declaration as soon as possible and to appoint a drought task force to work with the state to mitigate the drought’s effects on the state. Now that the governor has issued the state declaration, I hope the president will act quickly to approve the federal declaration."
Democratic State Senator Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton said the move is a sign of relief for farmers,
"It's time that we made firm decisions about funding regional projects that can come online sooner rather than later and with certainty, because the situation is desparate."
Brown's move may put even more emphasis on a renewed debate over an $11 billion water bond for the November ballot. Republican Assembly Leader Connie Conway of Tulare called the declaration "better late than never."
Hear the Governor's complete speech: