Calif. calls for water conservation in response to record drought

A dry spell that has been building for three years has become a full-on emergency in California. Gov. Jerry Brown called it the worst drought on record and has asked everyone across the state to conserve water. Jeffrey Brown reports on the threats posed by the dry conditions.

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JUDY WOODRUFF: It's well-known that California has its share of disasters and troubles with extreme weather. But the severe drought that's hitting the state is having a deep and widespread impact. It's even bringing back bad memories of similar problems during the '70s.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: While the Midwest and East face a fierce winter and heavy snowfall, there's an entirely different climate concern in California: a record-breaking dry spell that's been building for three years.

GOV. JERRY BROWN, D-Calif.: I'm declaring a drought emergency.

JEFFREY BROWN: Last week, Governor Jerry Brown formally announced the state may be facing its worst drought since record-keeping began some 100 years ago. He returned to the subject today in his state of the state address.

JERRY BROWN: Among all of our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. We can't control it. We can only live with it. And now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration.

JEFFREY BROWN: Precipitation is below 20 percent of normal this winter, and, as a result, river flows are low, snowpacks are much smaller than normal and reservoirs are shrinking.

NARRATOR: Water in L.A. is limited. Every drop is precious.

JEFFREY BROWN: The dry conditions are also feeding wildfires, as vegetation that typically rehydrates during the winter dries out instead.

California's huge agriculture industry is likewise threatened, raising prices for produce and raising concerns among farmers. And the drought has raised new regional tensions. Some in Northern California demand the drier south conserve more, while water suppliers insist they already are.

TERRY ERLEWINE, state water contractors: There's been a huge amount of water conservation implemented in Southern California.

JEFFREY BROWN: Several California Republicans in Congress and House Speaker John Boehner announced emergency legislation today to stop restoration of the San Joaquin River aimed at bringing back salmon to let farmers tap water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

They spoke in Bakersfield.

REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-Calif.: We're not asking for anything more. We're just asking for the original contract of water. That is what allowed this valley to bloom. So if we would just get the water that we were allocated and that we have been promised by the government, all these people would be working.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, Gov. Brown called for everyone across the state to save water.

JERRY BROWN: We need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water. We need regulators to rebalance water rules and enable voluntary transfers of water. And we must prepare for forest fires. As the state water plan action lays out, water recycling, expanded storage and serious ground water management must all be part of the mix.

JEFFREY BROWN: If the drought continues, Brown warned, mandatory measures may be imposed. And the lack of water will begin to affect surrounding states as well.