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California governor proclaims state in a drought

January 17, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California’s governor formally proclaimed a drought Friday, saying the state is in the midst of perhaps its worst dry spell in a century and the conditions are putting residents and their property in “extreme peril.”

Gov. Jerry Brown made the announcement in San Francisco amid increasing pressure from lawmakers and as firefighters chased flare-ups in a southern California wildfire that has kept thousands of people from their homes.

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.

It also cuts red tape for the state’s water managers, allowing them to more quickly move water to rights-holders. And it qualifies agriculture interests for federal programs meant to help with unemployment and financial losses.

“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.

The governor’s proclamation said some cities are in danger of running out of water, and people in farming communities that will not be able to find work will need assistance getting food.

Droughts also are persisting or intensifying elsewhere in the United States. On Wednesday, federal officials said they were designating portions of 11 drought-ridden western and central states as primary natural disaster areas, highlighting the financial strain facing farmer in those regions.

Brown spoke against the backdrop of a chart with statewide average precipitation by year dating 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,” the governor said.

Precipitation in most of California is less than 20 percent of normal, and reservoirs are dwindling. Forecasts suggest the dry spell could continue, exacerbating the already heightened fire danger.

On Friday, firefighters had a damaging wildfire in the foothill suburbs northeast of Los Angeles about 30 percent contained.

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