North and South Carolina are fighting over a river. In Tennessee, springs are drying up, jeopardizing production of Jack Daniels whiskey. The mayor of Los Angeles is asking residents to take shorter showers. And in Georgia, the governor is praying for rain.

More than a third of the United States is in the grip of a menacing drought that threatens to spread before the summer ends.

While much of the West has experienced drought conditions for close to a decade, the latest system is centered over Alabama and extends to much of the Southeast, heavily affecting Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Virginia as well as parts of Arkansas and West Virginia.

Parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee are experiencing a level D4 drought, the most extreme level charted and the worst in the nation. Severe drought conditions are moving north, into Kentucky and closer to the Midwest.

"It's one of the worst droughts in living memory in the Southeast at this point," said Doug LeComte, a drought specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This happens only about every 50 years or so."

The severe conditions have forced cities to establish tough water restrictions, basically banning everything from watering lawns on weekdays to wiping out summertime rituals such as cooling off children with water hoses.

As lawns turn brown and tempers flare under the sweltering heat, neighbors are snitching on one another, turning in those whose lawns appear too green. And officials in some cities are dealing with those perpetrators by imposing hefty fines, turning off water service to homes and throwing chronic abusers into jail.

In Columbia County, Ga., near Augusta, officials are receiving at least a half-dozen calls a day from people turning in their neighbors. So far they have turned off water to 50 homes that violated the water ban at least three times. Wellington, Fla., has issued more than 2,000 citations, with fines ranging from $75 to $250 for repeat offenders.

The Birmingham, Ala., area has some of the toughest repercussions for those who ignore its ban on using lawn sprinklers or decide to wash their cars in driveways. Residents are being told to use hand sprayers or fill buckets to water their flowers and grass. In the city of Birmingham, violators face hefty surcharges for using more than the allotted amount of water.

In Atlanta, where rapid growth is contributing to the water shortage, outdoor water use is banned during the week. In suburban Forsyth County, violators can receive up to a $1,000 in fines and up to 60 days in jail for the second violation. The fire chief in suburban Roswell, Ga., is considering banning Fourth of July fireworks in that city, fearing that a spark could ignite fires.

Extreme drought in at least 95 Georgia counties has hurt the state's $54 billion agricultural industry. Officials said farmers throughout the South are being hit hard, with losses to cotton, peanuts and corn.

Farmers in California, Kentucky and Alabama are selling their herds because a shortage of hay to feed them.

"Farmers are reporting nothing but dust. It's dire straits," LeComte said.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue proclaimed June 11 as a Day of Prayer for Agriculture and joined more than 250 people at the Georgia Farm Bureau in Macon to pray for rain. It came that night, but the downpour wasn't nearly enough to make a difference.

In the meantime, some residents are finding ways to conserve water. Suzan Satterfield said she uses "gray water" from her morning shower to water her plants.

"I have a big potted begonia that looks like it's on death's door if I don't water it every evening," said Satterfield, 40, of Norcross, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. "So toward the end of my shower when I am rinsing off, I stop the drain and collect about six inches of water in a bucket."

She said she usually collects about three bucketfuls each day, and her plants seem to thrive on the soapy water.

Jerry Hamilton, the distillery plant manager for Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, Tenn., told the Associated Press recently that the stream that supplies iron-free water for its whiskey recipe was flowing about one-third to one-half its normal rate. Officials said the distillery is conserving the water from Cave Springs, which has been used for 140 years, using it only for whiskey.

South Carolina and North Carolina are battling over the Catawba River, which provides drinking water and electricity for the two states. South Carolina has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to ban a plan by two suburbs of Charlotte to pump up to 10 million gallons of water a day from the river.

Unless a resolution is found quickly, the states could end up in a water war like the one involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Those states have been embroiled in a court battle over how to share the water in the Chattahoochee River for 16 years.

Experts blame the Southeast's drought on a persistent high-pressure system that has kept rain away from the area. In California, an abnormally dry winter is the culprit.

Americans use an average of 100 gallons of water a day, and they're being urged to cut their demand to put less pressure on the supply.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants residents to reduce their water use by 10 percent through small changes, such as taking shorter showers and sweeping sidewalks instead of spraying them down.

People will have to learn to conserve or pay a price in the future, LeComte said.

"This is a reminder that these major droughts can happen anywhere," he said. "Whether this is a trend or not, it will make people rethink their use of this valuable resource and realize that it is not infinite."