SACRAMENTO - Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to formally declare a drought emergency on Friday. Brown has scheduled a 9 a.m. news conference in San Francisco for what he's calling a "major announcement."
The expected declaration comes after a huge crowd rallied on the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday.
"It's time for Sacramento to declare a drought," Assembly member Henry T. Perea proclaimed.
A drought declaration could speed up help to cities that need it most and cut red tape for water transfers.
"He can shift those numbersto reduce some that goes to the ocean and push more south of the Delta to the cities and farming communities," Latino Water Coalition's Mario Sanroyo said.
The last time the state declared a drought was in 2008 when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in office. He directed the state's response to areas with unusually dry conditions that damaged crops, harmed water quality and caused extreme fire danger across California.
Now, the situation is much worse. California is experiencing its worst drought in more than 20 years. On Thursday, federal officials said more than 62 percent of the state is in an "extreme drought." Just a week ago it was only 26 percent.
The state snowpack is just 20 percent of average for this time of year. Despite the dire water outlook, some environmentalists are concerned about the governor's expected announcement.
"The drought declaration unfortunately is just going to facilitate taking the little bit of the water left in the system in northern California and transferring," Restore the Delta member Barbara Barrigan Parilla said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just declared 27 California counties primary natural disaster areas because of drought. Many of the counties are in Northern California, including Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. This means eligible farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA.
Dry conditions coupled with high temperature also have fire officials worried about the upcoming season. CalFire said they've seen 150 wildfires in the past two weeks. Last year at this time, there was zero. Because of this Cal Fire is hiring 125 seasonal firefighters in the next couple of weeks to prepare for an early wildfire season.