Environment & Science

Gov. Brown announces mandatory statewide California water reductions

File: Crops in the distance are watered beneath the sweltering sun on March 29, 2015 in Kern County, California, which became the nation's number 2 crop county for the first time in 2013, near where the West branch of the California Aqueduct begins its ascent to Castaic and Pyramid Lakes in the Angeles National Forest, supplying water to the populations of the Los Angeles basin. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range hit an unprecedented low this week, falling below historic lows of 2014 and 1977 for the state's driest winter in sixty-five years of record keeping. California's drought, now in its fourth year, is going from bad to worse.
File: Crops in the distance are watered beneath the sweltering sun on March 29, 2015 in Kern County, California, which became the nation's number 2 crop county for the first time in 2013, near where the West branch of the California Aqueduct begins its ascent to Castaic and Pyramid Lakes in the Angeles National Forest, supplying water to the populations of the Los Angeles basin. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range hit an unprecedented low this week, falling below historic lows of 2014 and 1977 for the state's driest winter in sixty-five years of record keeping. California's drought, now in its fourth year, is going from bad to worse.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
File: Crops in the distance are watered beneath the sweltering sun on March 29, 2015 in Kern County, California, which became the nation's number 2 crop county for the first time in 2013, near where the West branch of the California Aqueduct begins its ascent to Castaic and Pyramid Lakes in the Angeles National Forest, supplying water to the populations of the Los Angeles basin. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range hit an unprecedented low this week, falling below historic lows of 2014 and 1977 for the state's driest winter in sixty-five years of record keeping. California's drought, now in its fourth year, is going from bad to worse.
No snow is visible at the Phillips Station snow course on March 29, days before the April 1 snowpack reading. The average amount of snow on April 1 is 66.5 inches.
Doug Carlson


With the brown mountainsides of California's parched Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday called for the first-ever mandatory statewide water reductions for cities and towns.

The governor issued an executive order calling on the state's Department of Water Resources to work with California's 411 urban water agencies to find reductions of 25 percent by the end of next February.

Most cities in California already have water restrictions in place, so it's not immediately clear what impact Brown's order will have on them going forward. (Click here to find water restrictions already in place in your city.)

While Brown was making his announcement, state officials were taking manual measurements of the Sierra's all-important snowpack, and what they found was shocking: whatever snow there was on the ground was just 5 percent of what it typically is this time of year. That's the lowest April 1 reading on record. (In comparison, last year's April 1 snowpack was 25 percent of average levels.)

In normal years, the meltwater from the snowpack provides nearly a third of the state's drinking water.

"Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Brown said. He said that he was issuing an executive order to institute water reductions.

The water reduction efforts include mandating that cities reduce their water usage by 25 percent, increasing enforcement by having local water agencies institute conservation pricing, changing the way the government is responding to the drought and investing in new technologies.

Brown's executive order follows efforts instituted last year to cut water use in California's cities and towns. In July, the state's Water Resources Control Board called on cities to limit outdoor water use, if they hadn't already done so. Measures included restricting lawn watering to two days a week, washing cars only with automatic shutoff nozzles, and running fountains only with recycled water. 

Last month, the water board added new measures calling on restaurants to serve water only when asked and hotels to only supply one set of bath towels and sheets for the entire duration of a guest's stay. 

Some of the items in the executive order include:

Read the full executive order below, including 31 directives that go into the efforts to save water:

This story has been updated.