For the first time in state history, cities and towns across California must implement mandatory restrictions to reduce water use during the fourth consecutive year of drought under an executive order announced Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The unprecedented move follows the lowest snowpack ever recorded. Snowpack in the Sierra mountain range melts during spring and provides water for an estimated 25 million Californians.
"Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Brown said Wednesday. "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."
Mandatory water reductions will be put in place by the State Water Resources Control Board across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent -- a saving that will amount to about 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, according to Brown's office.
The drought's effects are rippling across the state, hurting wildlife and forcing farmers to leave fields unplanted. So far this winter, wildfires are burning through nearly four times as many acres as usual.
Brown's order announced Wednesday will:
- Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
- Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models;
- Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
- Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.
Water restrictions approved earlier this month banned restaurants from offering water unless customers ask and forced hotels and motels to offer guests a chance to deline fresh towels and sheets.
Those restrictions will require local water departments to cut back the number of days residents can water their lawns. If they don't, residents must follow a state rule limiting their sprinkling to twice a week. Homeowners are also barred from using sprinklers on days when it rains and for the next two days after.
Agricultural water users will now be required to report more water use information to state regulations.
Additional actions required by the order announced Wednesday include:
- Taking action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have not shared data on their groundwater supplies with the state;
- Updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and taking action against communities that ignore these standards; and
- Making permanent monthly reporting of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions by local water suppliers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.