SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered mandatory water conservation in the state's cities and towns after a severe four-year drought. Here are key things to know about the drought:
Question: Why did Brown make the order now?
Answer: Californians had hoped that rain and snow this winter would rescue the state after its driest three-year period on record. Instead, the winter brought by far the least snow on record in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The snowpack that normally provides water for the state throughout the year now stands at just 6 percent of normal. That means the state's nearly 40 million people must rely on water already stored in reservoirs and on groundwater that farmers and communities are pumping at dangerously fast rates.
Q: How have Californians done at voluntary conservation?
A: Not so well. In January 2014, Brown asked Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 20 percent. Instead, they averaged about half of that.
San Francisco Bay Area water users were among the thriftiest, using around 70 gallons of water per person per day. But that figure topped 300 gallons for some affluent desert communities in Southern California that had big lawns, pools and golf courses.
Q: How will people notice a difference under Brown's order?
A: California will start looking a lot browner -- since communities have now been banned from using drinking water to irrigate street medians. Communities also will be encouraged to reward homeowners for getting rid of water-gulping lawns. And the order directs a statewide look at water rates to encourage conservation, meaning water-rate hikes are likely.
Q: Why should people outside California care about the drought?
A: Shrinking water reserves forced California growers to let fallow 400,000 acres last year and likely hundreds of thousands more acres this year. Farmers say that could eventually mean more expensive fruits and vegetables.