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Gov. Brown announces mandatory statewide California water reductions

With the brown mountainsides of California's parched Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday called for the first-ever mandatory statewide water reductions for cities and towns.

The governor issued an executive order calling on the state's Department of Water Resources to work with California's 411 urban water agencies to find reductions of 25 percent by the end of next February.

Most cities in California already have water restrictions in place, so it's not immediately clear what impact Brown's order will have on them going forward. (Click here to find water restrictions already in place in your city.)

While Brown was making his announcement, state officials were taking manual measurements of the Sierra's all-important snowpack, and what they found was shocking: whatever snow there was on the ground was just 5 percent of what it typically is this time of year. That's the lowest April 1 reading on record. (In comparison, last year's April 1 snowpack was 25 percent of average levels.)

In normal years, the meltwater from the snowpack provides nearly a third of the state's drinking water.

"Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Brown said. He said that he was issuing an executive order to institute water reductions.

The water reduction efforts include mandating that cities reduce their water usage by 25 percent, increasing enforcement by having local water agencies institute conservation pricing, changing the way the government is responding to the drought and investing in new technologies.

Brown's executive order follows efforts instituted last year to cut water use in California's cities and towns. In July, the state's Water Resources Control Board called on cities to limit outdoor water use, if they hadn't already done so. Measures included restricting lawn watering to two days a week, washing cars only with automatic shutoff nozzles, and running fountains only with recycled water. 

Last month, the water board added new measures calling on restaurants to serve water only when asked and hotels to only supply one set of bath towels and sheets for the entire duration of a guest's stay. 

Some of the items in the executive order include:

  • The state water board imposing restrictions to reduce water usage 25 percent through Feb. 28, 2016.
  • An initiative to replace 50 million square feet of lawns and turf with "drought tolerant landscapes."
  • A rebate program to encourage replacing inefficient household appliances
  • Requiring more information from water suppliers
  • Increased enforcement to make sure water is not being used illegally
  • Increased water efficiency standards
  • Prioritizing the review and approval of water infrastructure projects and programs that increase water supplies

Read the full executive order below, including 31 directives that go into the efforts to save water:

This story has been updated.