SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — With a record-dry year, reservoir levels under strain and no rain in the forecast, California Gov. Jerry Brown formally proclaimed the state in a drought Friday, confirming what many already knew.
Brown made the announcement in San Francisco amid increasing pressure in recent weeks from the state’s lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The proclamation allows California to request a broad emergency declaration from President Barack Obama, which would expedite some water transfers, provide financial assistance and suspend some state and federal regulations.
“Today, I’m declaring a drought emergency in the state of California because we’re facing perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept 100 years ago,” Brown said.
He spoke against the backdrop of a chart with statewide average precipitation by year dating back to 1970 and a satellite image of California in January 2013 and January 2014 side by side that showed the state’s dwindling snowpack.
He encouraged people to voluntarily conserve water, but said his administration is considering a mandatory conservation order.
“I think the drought emphasizes that we do live in an era of limits, that nature has its boundaries,” he said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor has reported extreme drought conditions in central and northern California, and there has been little snowfall so far this winter.
Precipitation in most of the state is less than 20 percent of normal, and reservoirs are dwindling. Forecasts suggest the dry spell could continue, exacerbating the already heightened fire danger.
Other states in the West also are facing dry conditions.
On Wednesday, federal officials designated portions of 11 drought-ridden western and central states as primary natural disaster areas, highlighting the financial strain the lack of rain is likely to bring to farmers in those regions.
The announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture covered 27 counties in California, including Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho and Oklahoma also were affected.
The designation means eligible farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the department.
While storms have dumped rain and snow in the East, droughts are persisting or intensifying in the West, according to officials connected with the U.S. Drought Monitor, an index on which the USDA’s declarations are based. A ridge of high pressure is to blame for keeping storms off the Pacific coast and guiding them to the East.
“What we’re seeing meteorologically is a blocking pattern that is deflecting all the storms,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the Lincoln, Neb.-based National Drought Mitigation Center. “There really hasn’t been a lot of indication that this pattern is breaking down.”
Poor snowpack is threatening regions dependent on major western rivers, and no amount of wet winter weather in the East can ease the pain, officials said.
“Once you cross the Rockies, nothing on the East is going to help you,” Fuchs said.
By Jason Dearen