Maybe you’ve heard about the ongoing drought in California. Maybe you haven’t because you don’t live there and think that a lack of water in one state has nothing to do with the 49 others. But we’d all be wise to pay close attention to the severe precipitation shortage in California, which recently prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a statewide drought emergency.

The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln defines a drought as a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time – usually a season or more – resulting in a water shortage for some activity, group, or environmental sector. A drought’s impact results from the interplay between the natural event (less precipitation than expected) and the demand people place on the water supply.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the population of California is 38.4 million, the largest in the country. That’s a lot of people, demanding a lot of water. And California is not alone in their suffering: The New York Times reported earlier this month that farmers in Nevada had given up on planting, and ranchers in New Mexico were selling off cattle because fields of grass normally four feet high were brown and dry.

Parts of California are faring better than others during this drought. Communities in Southern California, for instance, learned from previous droughts and have taken dedicated steps toward conserving the region’s water supply for decades now. Rebate programs offer incentives for residents to install low-flow shower heads, new toilets that use less water than older models and sprinkler systems that respond to weather and plant conditions. Additionally, Southern California has beefed up its water storage capacity over the past decade, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

As a result, the State Water Project’s announcement that it can no longer supplement dwindling water supplies throughout California is of less concern  around Los Angeles, where one local water official told Time.com, “If it stopped raining everywhere in the West, we still have a year and half of water supply.”

Whether you live somewhere prone to drought or not, limiting water usage is good environmental practice. Installing high-efficiency washing machines or dishwashers in your home conserves large amounts of water; so does simply fixing a leaky toilet. For more easy ways to reduce water consumption at home or at work, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website.

Droughts have legs, with wide-reaching, long-lasting effects. An article posted last year on Slate.com pondered what the American diet would look like without California, which produces a sizeable majority of this country’s fruits, vegetable, and nuts. More than 90 percent of artichokes, walnuts, kiwis, plums, celery, and garlic are grown in California. The list of vital, nutritious vegetables dependent on California’s particular climate and soil is exhaustive. The ability to grow and foster most crops relies, obviously, on water. A water shortage portends a food shortage, which we’ll all pay for at the grocery store if produce prices surge.

A freakishly dry weather pattern, combined with human and other factors, has led to California’s worst drought in centuries. Such “freak” events seem to be happening more regularly – Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, historic floods in the Midwest, raging wildfires in the West. There’s no telling when this situation in California will improve, but as state and federal officials grapple with this emergency, we should all consider ourselves affected until proven otherwise.

Note: Information provided herein is not intended to treat or diagnose any health condition. As always, consult your healthcare provider with any questions or health concerns.