Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday proclaimed a statewide drought after two years of below-average rainfall and other factors.
"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 stated in his executive order. "As a result, some local governments are rationing water, developments can't proceed and agricultural fields are sitting idle. We must recognize the severity of the crisis we face."
The executive order directed the state's response to unusually dry conditions that are damaging crops, harming water quality and putting areas at risk of fire across California. Many communities already are requiring water conservation or rationing.
The statewide drought declaration is the first since 1991, when Gov. Pete Wilson acted in the fifth year of a drought that lasted into 1992.
The order directs the state Department of Water Resources to speed water transfers to areas with the worst shortages. It also tells state officials to help local water districts with conservation and directs agencies to help farmers suffering losses.
California depends on winter snow accumulation in Northern California's Sierra Nevada for much of its summer water supply. But March, April and May were the driest winter months on record, forcing water use cutbacks by farmers and urban residents alike.
The governor has warned that conditions could be even worse in 2009 if there is another dry winter.
Schwarzenegger is expected to use the drought declaration to promote his nearly $12 billion proposal to build more reservoirs and a canal to direct water around the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.