ECHO LAKE, Calif. - California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered officials Wednesday to impose statewide mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history as surveyors found the lowest snow level in the Sierra Nevada snowpack in 65 years of record-keeping.
Standing in dry, brown grass at a site that normally would be snow-covered this time of year, Brown announced that he had signed an executive order requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut the state's overall water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels.
The move will affect residents, businesses, farmers, and other users.
"We're in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action," Brown said at a news conference at Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada, where state water officials found no snow on the ground for the first time in their April manual survey of the snowpack. "We have to pull together and save water in every way we can."
After declaring a drought emergency in January 2014, Brown urged all Californians to cut water use by 20 percent from the previous year. Despite increasingly stringent regulations imposed on local water agencies by the state, overall water use has fallen by just half that amount, prompting Brown to order the stronger action by the water board.
"We're in a new era; the idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day, that's going to be a thing of the past," Brown said.
The executive order will require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries, and other large landscapes to significantly cut water use; direct local governments to replace 50 million square feet of lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping; and create a temporary rebate program for consumers who replace old water-sucking appliances with more efficient ones.
It calls on local water agencies to be more aggressive in charging for high water use, including extra fees for the highest water consumption. It also requires farming communities to report more data on how much water they use to state regulators.
Brown's office said that will boost the state's ability to enforce laws against illegal water diversions and waste. Officials previously approved fines of up to $500 a day for water wasters, but few agencies have opted to issue them.
The order also prohibits new homes and developments from using drinkable water for irrigation if the structures lack water-efficient drip systems. In addition, the watering of decorative grasses on public street medians is banned.