"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," Brown said in a written statement. "I have declared this emergency and I'm calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible."
The spell of sunny, dry weather that developed in early December has persisted, and forecasters this week warned that there was a strong possibility that the southern half of the state could see absolutely no rain for all of January, which is generally the wettest month of the year in the region.
The San Francisco Chronicle said the vital Sierra Nevada snow pack was a startlingly 17 percent of normal this week, and water agencies were beginning to call for voluntary or mandatory reductions in water consumption.
Brown's declaration included a green light for the hiring of seasonal firefighters in anticipation of wildfires at a time of year when such fires are considered rare. It also directed state agencies to help farmers navigate potential reductions in irrigation water and streamline the process for transferring water among different water agencies.
Members of the California congressional delegation said they hoped to unite on federal legislation that would assist Brown's efforts.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and the state's two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, sent the Obama administration officials a letter on Thursday urging the establishment of a drought task force. Meanwhile, a House Republican was drafting water legislation and another California Republican -- the leader of the House water and power panel – planned to conduct hearings on the crisis, McClatchy Newspapers reported.
"We'll see whether or not we can come together on something that makes sense," Costa told McClatchy. "I don't care who gets the credit for this, so long as we get something done."
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