Gov. Brown to water leaders: Drought is a 'wake-up call'

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Gov. Jerry Brown told water managers from across Southern California on Thursday that the state's extreme drought conditions are a "big wake-up call" that water is a precious resource.

Speaking before a closed-to-the-public water summit at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Water District in downtown Los Angeles, the governor did not rule out mandatory conservation. "It’s voluntary now, but every day it goes on we’re going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing," he said.

RELATED: Drought: Snowpack in Sierra Nevada at record low levels

For his part, Jeff Kightlinger, general manager for the Metropolitan Water District, said the lack of rain was unprecedented and that he would ask the MWD board to double the budget for conservation, from $20 million to $40 million. "This drought, ... frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it," he said. 

That money will pay for retail-level rebates for homeowners, businesses and other water users. "We are confident people will want to respond, and we want to support them in that response," he said. 

The state is now in its third straight dry year, and the drought has already hit rural communities particularly hard. Seventeen communities in Northern and Central California are in danger of running out of water within four months.

Water managers have said the situation in Southern California isn't yet dire thanks to water conservation and plumbing code reforms.

But it’s hard to overstate how weird and serious it is for the state’s water agencies to sound this alarmed about supplies in January. 

Earlier this month, Brown declared a drought emergency, paving the way for federal assistance.

He says the drought is a problem that should unite the state, rather than divide it. "We do have a politics of finger pointing and blame whenever there's a problem," he said. "And we got a problem. So there will be a tendency to try to blame somebody else."

He also offered his own conservation tips: "Don’t flush more than you have to, don’t shower longer than you need to, and turn the water off when you’re shaving or brushing your teeth."

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