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In what could become one of California's biggest crises in years, Gov. Jerry Brown has officially declared a statewide drought emergency - an action that sets the stage for some new state and federal efforts and should also focus the attention of Californians to potential water shortages ahead.

"All I can report to you is it's not raining today and it's not likely to rain for several weeks," said the governor in a news conference Friday morning in San Francisco.

Lawmakers and locals have been urging Brown for the last few weeks to make the drought official, a situation made clear by the bleak news out of the first Sierra snowpack measurement of the season on Jan. 10.

Brown told reporters Friday that he's urging voluntary water conservation to the tune of a 20-percent reduction. But he stopped short of saying such a reduction should be mandatory - for now, at least.

RELATED: Gov. Brown state of emergency declaration

"We ought to be ready for a long, continuous, persistent effort," he said.

The executive order directs state officials to offer extra help farmers and California communities with the most at stake in a drought, including the possibility of drinking water shortages. Brown also directed state agencies to use less water than they do now, and to hire more firefighters for what's already a very unusually dry winter season.

State water experts have compared current conditions to the bleak 1976-1977 drought season in California, one also overseen by Brown in his first term in office. The governor fielded a question about the comparisons on Friday, and simply said it's a reminder that Californians need to look back at the conservation efforts of that era in how they use water in 2014.

"This effort is a call to arms," he said.

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