{{show_title_date || "Unprecedented drought forces sweeping water restrictions in California, 4/1/15, 9:22 PM ET"}}

California orders unprecedented water rationing to combat drought

Updated

Facing catastrophic water shortages across California, Gov. Jerry Brown is taking drastic action to impose water rationing for the entire state.

Brown, a Democrat, unveiled an executive order Wednesday mandating a 25% reduction of water usage statewide. The governor also announced plans to replace 50 million square feet of lawns with “drought tolerant landscaping,” to set up a program to exchange outdated technology and increase regulations on the state’s large agricultural industry.

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To mark the announcement, Brown traveled to the base of Lake Tahoe for Northern California’s annual snow-pack measurement. The reading, which ordinarily would find an average 66.5 inches of snow this time of year, showed dismal snowfall. Statewide snow surveys were about 5% of their average for the start of the month, according to the California Department of Water Resources, and on Wednesday, researchers found the lowest snow-pack ever recorded, the governor’s office said.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” Brown said in a statement. “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.”

The executive action comes just days after Brown signed a $1 billion emergency legislative package to funnel state resources toward drought relief, including emergency food aid, drinking water and water recycling.

The State Water Resources Control Board had previously implemented modest restrictions, banning lawn watering and home car-washing. Last year, Brown called on Californian’s to cut back water usage by 20% – a goal the state briefly hit. But recently released data shows that in January, water use declined by only 8.8% compared to January 2013.

Brown’s latest water usage restrictions are unprecedented in the history of the state, mirroring a rationing plan that was considered during a similarly severe drought in the 1970s but never implemented.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow.”
Gov. Jerry Brown
California’s epic four-year drought has devastated its already tapped-out water supplies. The state is just wrapping up its “wet” season – now a misnomer after months that brought paltry rain and snowfall. January was the state’s driest month since record-keeping began in 1895.

Some are already seeing sweeping water usage restrictions as the new way of life in California. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warned last month that California only had one year of water stored in its reservoirs. “As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water – and the problem started before our current drought,” Famiglietti wrote.

4/1/15, 4:04 PM ET

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California orders unprecedented water rationing to combat drought

Updated