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California Governor issues mandatory water restrictions

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(CNN) — California Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday imposed mandatory water restrictions for the first time on residents, businesses and farms, ordering cities and towns in the drought-ravaged state to reduce usage by 25%.

“This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” Brown told reporters, standing on a patch of dry, brown grass in the Sierra Nevada mountains that is usually blanketed by up to 5 feet of snow.

The 25% cut in usage amounts to roughly 1.5 million acre-feet of water (an acre-foot of water equals about 325,000 gallons) over the next nine months, state officials said.

“We’re in a new era,” Brown said. “The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.”

The actions comes as the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which Californians rely on heavily during the summer for their water needs, is near record low.

A new way of managing a precious resource

In addition, Brown’s executive order will:

— Impose significant cuts in water use on campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes.

— Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with “drought tolerant landscaping.”

— Create a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with water efficient models.

— Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used.

— Ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

— Require agricultural water users to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste.

“It’s a different world,” Brown said Wednesday. “We have to act differently.”

A staggering 11 trillion gallons are needed for California to recover from the emergency.

The entire state of California faces at least a moderate drought and more than half of the state faces the worst category of dryness, called an exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

California isn’t the only state feeling an absence of rain. As of late September, 30% of the Lower 48 faced at least a moderate drought, particularly in the Southwest states neighboring California and in Texas, the Drought Monitor says.

But none of those states is facing the extremes of California, where the drought has been a slowly building natural disaster since 2012.

In fact, Brown last year declared a state emergency, saying his constituents are facing “perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago.”

What’s been done so far

On September 16, Brown signed “historic legislation” that created “a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management for the first time in California history,” the governor’s office said. Before the new legislation, California was the only Western state that didn’t manage its groundwater, officials said.

Last month, Brown last unveiled an emergency $1 billion spending plan to tackle the state’s historic drought.

According to the California State Water Resources Control Board, the package will specifically accelerate $128 million from the governor’s budget to provide direct assistance to workers and affected communities.

Proposition 1 funding, which enacted the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, will funnel $272 million into safe drinking water efforts and maintenance of water recycling infrastructure. Some $660 million from Prop 1 will also be accelerated for flood protection in urban and rural areas.

As part of the changes, Brown said additional measures will crack down on water inefficiency as California enters the fourth year of a worsening water crisis.

The March snowpack measurement came in at 0.9 inches of water content in the snow, just 5% of the March 3 historical average for the measurement site.

The overall water content for the Northern Sierra snowpack came in at 4.4 inches, just 16% of average for the date. Central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20% of average) and 5 inches (22% of average) respectively.

Only in 1991 has the water content of the snow been lower.

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