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California Governor Declares Drought State Of Emergency

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency Friday morning amid one of California's driest winters on record.

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"We are in a unprecedented, very serious situation, and people should pause and reflect on how dependent we are on the rain, on nature and one another," he told a room full of reporters in San Francisco.

Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at a news conference in San Diego on the day he released his $155 billion proposed budget for 2014-15.

Brown called for a collaborative effort to restrain water use, urging Californians to conserve in every way possible.

"I'm also setting in motion easier water transfers so a farmer who really needs water — who's willing to pay for it — can get it from another farmer who doesn't necessarily need it," he said.

Under the declaration, state water officials have more flexibility to manage California's water supply amid drought conditions, a statement from his office said.

Just Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture named 27 California counties primary natural disaster areas due to recent drought.

The drought doesn't bode well for California's notorious wildfire season, either.

Previous super-dry years led to catastrophic wildfire seasons in California in 2003 and 2007, said Tom Scott, a natural resources specialist with the University of California system. Fire crews beat back a wildfire southeast of Los Angeles earlier this week, but it was a stark reminder of the dry and dangerous conditions.

"People say that the fire season is starting early, but I guess you could say it never ended," Scott said. "If you live in the backcountry, come July you probably should be thinking about putting your valuables in storage."

Droughts also are persisting or intensifying elsewhere in the U.S.

On Wednesday, federal officials said they were designating portions of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and California as primary natural disaster areas, highlighting the financial strain facing farmers in those regions.

Even in the moist Pacific Northwest, things were a little bit drier.

In Seattle, rainfall dropped by nearly 70 percent in December, with just 1.66 inches falling. Ski resorts are opening several weeks late, and a Bavarian-themed town in the Cascade Mountains had to modify its annual "ice fest" because there isn't enough snow on the ground for activities. A plan to truck in snow was scrapped with high temperatures forecast this weekend.

And despite heavy flooding in Colorado in September, large portions of Colorado and Wyoming are abnormally dry, while ranchers on the plains of southeastern Colorado have severe drought conditions.

In California, the governor's drought declaration will help battle unemployment in the agriculture industry as fields are left fallow.

Nearly 10,000 people lost their jobs during the last drought in 2009, said Karen Ross, California's agriculture secretary. The drought also increases the burden on food banks in rural and agricultural communities.

The lack of rain also could have long-standing implications for the demand for crops that are almost entirely exclusive to California.

Eighty percent of the world's almonds, for example, are grown in California, and the Almond Board of California receives 3 cents for every pound sold to build future demand for the nut. With many almond growers having to irrigate their crops three months early, a smaller crop might put a dent in the board's ability to market almonds as broadly as it has been, said David Phippen, an almond grower who serves on the board.

"There's huge implications everywhere you look," he said. "What about five years down the road?"

Will you be making any changes to help conserve water? Share your thoughts and tips with us in the comments section below.

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