SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Issuing California's first-ever mandatory water reductions Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered cities and towns to cut back their water use by 25 percent because the latest drought indicators are dire.
Brown witnessed state officials measure the Sierra Nevada snowpack Wednesday and the results revealed the snowpack is at just 5 percent of its historic average on April 1. The measurement site, a meadow historically covered with feet of snow, was brown and barren.
"Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow," Brown said in a statement. "This historic drought demands unprecedented action. Therefore, I'm issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible."
Brown's drought order calls for the California Water Resources Control Board to implement restrictions that could save up to 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or the amount of water that is currently in one of California's largest reservoirs, Lake Oroville. The restrictions will require golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant reductions in water use.
Members of Brown's administration called the state's drought unprecedented and said there is no relief in sight.
"This spells out the fact that the situation is unprecedented and critical, and requires the actions of an all-hands-on-deck approach," Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services, said. "Over the last year, this drought has taken its toll on our cities, our farms and our natural environment."
The Sierra Nevada snowpack is an important water source for California, as each summer the snowmelt fills up the state's reservoirs. According to water board estimates, nearly 30 percent of the state's water comes from the snowpack.
Wednesday's historically low snowpack measurement is the latest example of the Golden State's enduring drought. January was the driest on record and February's average temperature topped all previous Februaries by 8 degrees. Last week Brown signed a $1.1 billion emergency drought relief package to ease the impact of another dry winter.
"This funding is just one piece of a much larger effort to help those most impacted by the drought and prepare the state for an uncertain future," Brown said in a statement at the signing.
The water board says nearly 30 percent of the state's water comes from the snowpack, which has suffered from another dry winter and unseasonably warm temperatures.
Wednesday's measurement was the lowest since records have been kept, a significant glimpse into California's water picture.
"We didn't find any snow," Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said.
Brown's directive will focus on conserving water in several areas, including replacing 50 million square-feet of lawn with drought-tolerant landscaping, and offering rebates for replacing older appliances with efficient ones. Water suppliers will be responsible for detailed drought-management plans.
Lawmakers applauded Brown's swift action.
"I'm pleased to see the governor responding to our call for fast-tracking new water supply projects across the state," Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen said. "It's past time to streamline the review process for water infrastructure projects."
The diminished snowpack is the latest example of the Golden State's enduring drought. January was the driest on record and February's average temperature topped all previous Februaries by 8 degrees. Last week Brown signed a $1.1 billion emergency drought relief package.
"This funding is just one piece of a much larger effort to help those most impacted by the drought and prepare the state for an uncertain future," Brown said at the signing.
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