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Science & Environment

California Governor Announces First Ever Mandatory Water Restrictions

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In California today, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the first-ever statewide water restrictions. That coincided with news that the snowpack in the state's Sierra Nevada Mountains is at the lowest level ever recorded. NPR's Kirk Siegler has the latest on steps to cope with California's punishing four-year drought.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Gov. Brown stood in this barren, brown field at 7,200 feet near a shuttered Lake Tahoe ski resort and announced a mandatory 25 percent cut in water use in every California city and town. He said the previous voluntary reductions just aren't enough.

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GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN: The world is changing. California's climate is changing, and we're taking another step.

SIEGLER: In addition to the mandatory 25 percent cut, the governor's latest emergency drought order bans the watering of ornamental grass in places like street medians. It also requires golf courses, campuses and cemeteries to cut their use. The Brown administration has been criticized for lax enforcement of recent drought orders. But today, the governor insisted that won't be the case from now on.

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BROWN: People should realize we're in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day - that's going to be a thing of the past.

SIEGLER: The governor issued this order during the state's monthly snow survey. He joined California's chief snow surveyor, Frank Gehrke, who held equipment they would've normally used to take measurements. Instead, no snow, and Gehrke says the data shows the snowpack across the Sierra Nevada at just 6 percent of normal. In this meadow, you'd expect there to be five feet of snow this time of year.

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FRANK GEHRKE: This is bad news in terms of the - you know, the state's water picture.

SIEGLER: Bad news indeed. Millions of people and thousands of farms rely on water coming from snow-fed reservoirs. The Sierra Nevada accounts for roughly a third of California's total water supply. Now, some reservoirs are in relatively decent shape, however, due to a wet December and early January - the only good news in an otherwise bleak outlook today. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Lake Tahoe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.