SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - After two years of below-average rainfall in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought on Wednesday.
The proclamation in an executive order allows water officials to more rapidly shift water around California, one of the nation's top farm states that also has wilderness areas prone to wildfires.
Many California water districts have already imposed restrictions on water use amid dry weather and after a U.S. court aiming to protect a fish species forced the state to pump less water from its San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, the state's fresh-water hub.
"For the areas in Northern California that supply most of our water, this March, April and May have been the driest ever in our recorded history," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
"As a result, some local governments are rationing water, developments can't proceed and agricultural fields are sitting idle," he said.
"We must recognize the severity of the crisis we face, so I am signing an executive order proclaiming a statewide drought and directing my Department of Water Resources and other entities to take immediate action to address the situation."
That will include efforts to reduce water use locally and regionally for the rest of this year in anticipation of lower water supplies next year, Schwarzenegger's statement added.
California's water situation underscores the need for expanding the state's water infrastructure, specifically public works to capture excess water in wet years to store for dry years, Schwarzenegger said, alluding to his call for lawmakers to agree to a multibillion bond measure for new water works.
"This drought is an urgent reminder of the immediate need to upgrade California's water infrastructure," he said. "There is no more time to waste because nothing is more vital to protect our economy, our environment and our quality-of-life. We must work together to ensure that California will have safe, reliable and clean water not only today but 20, 30 and 40 years from now."
Schwarzenegger is urging an $11.9 billion water bond. Lawmakers are negotiating plans for $9.5 billion to $12 billion in debt to build new water infrastructure, but Democrats who control the legislature and its Republican minority are at odds over the need for new dams.
In an interview last month with Reuters, new state Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill said he believed the two sides would make progress on a water bond bill and one could be put to voters as a measure on the November ballot.