California drought worst ever, raising fears of fire, poor crops

The driest spring in history has yielded by far the driest, most flammable landscape fire forecasters say they have ever seen this time of year in the Sacramento Valley and Sierra foothills.

Rangeland grasses, oak woodlands and forests started the fire season in May with less moisture than the lowest levels typically recorded at the seasonal peak, in August and September, according to fire-weather experts.

The same can be said of wooden shingles and sidings on homes, cordwood stacked on decks and grasses feeding cattle.

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Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday proclaimed a water emergency in nine Central Valley counties, where water shortages have led some growers to lay off workers and abandon crops.

The governor called for several actions — including pumping ground water into the California Aqueduct, which could begin within days.

Growers in the 600,000-acre Westlands Water District hope to use the cement-lined canal to move well water within the region to help make up for an unexpected cut in federal water supplies. But environmentalists are expected to challenge the move on the grounds that it could introduce dangerous contaminants into the 444-mile-long canal, which supplies urban areas in Southern California.

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