As California's devastating drought continues, Governor Jerry Brown has ordered residents and businesses to cut water use by 25% in the first mandatory state-wide reduction in California history.

Californians had hoped that winter rain and snow would rescue the state after its driest three-year period on record. Instead, 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% of normal. "We're in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action," Brown said 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're standing on dry ground and we should be standing on 5ft [1.5m] of snow."

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Governor Jerry Brown gestures to Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin and Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys, at the site of a manual snow survey in Phillips, California, on April 1, 2015. The recorded level was zero, the lowest in recorded historyMax Whittaker/Getty Images
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A skier heads down a narrow patch of snow at Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, California, on March 21, 2015Max Whittaker/Getty Images
california drought
Skiers thread their way through patchy snow on dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, California, on March 21, 2015Max Whittaker/Getty Images
california drought
People use Hollywood tourist maps as makeshift sunshades as they photograph one another with the Hollywood Sign in the distance in Griffith Park in Los Angeles on March 29, 2015. A record-breaking series of unusual heat waves made this the first March to have six days with highs in the 90s or above in Los Angeles since at least 1877 when record-keeping began. Temperatures averaged 10 degrees above normal almost every dayDavid McNew/Getty Images

"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 programme for consumers who replace old appliances with newer, more water-efficient models.

In the past year, the state water board has imposed mandatory water-saving restrictions on urban users that prohibit sprinklers running off on to pavements, bans residents from watering lawns two days after rain, and bars restaurants from serving water unless customers ask for it.

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City of Sacramento water conservation representative Steven Upton photographs a home that has evidence of watering on a mandatory "no watering" dayMax Whittaker/Reuters
california drought
Drew McClellan of A Lucky Lawn sprays green dye onto drought-affected grass at a home in Santa Fe Springs, California, on October 1, 2014. McClellan's small business has taken off as home owners prefer to dye their lawns green than face water restrictions and a rising water billMike Blake/Reuters
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A tank of non-potable water available to anyone who needs for flushing toilets, bathing and laundering it is seen in East Porterville, California, on February 11, 2015David McNew/Getty Images
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Rafael Surmay receives bottles of water from Donna Johnson, who distributes drinking water to neighbours in East Porterville, California.David McNew/Getty Images
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A woman browses a selection of drought-tolerant plants on display at a Home Depot in Alhambra, California, on April 1, 2015Frederic J Brown/AFP

Critics of the Democratic governor said his order does not go far enough to address agriculture — the biggest water user in California.

The order contains no water reduction target for farmers, who have let thousands of acres go fallow as the state and federal government slashed water deliveries from reservoirs. Instead, it requires many agricultural water suppliers to submit detailed drought management plans that include how much water they have and what they are doing to scale back.

In California, the drought lingers despite storms that brought some respite in December 2014 and February. The storms helped replenish some of the state's reservoirs, although most still have less water than historical averages show is typical.

california drought
A boat paddle lies on a dried-up section of the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, California, on January 21, 2014Robert Galbraith/Reuters
california drought
Thousands of juvenile salmon are dispatched into a holding tank in the Sacramento River in Rio Vista, California, on March 25, 2014. The salmon were trucked more than 200 miles from a hatchery on the northern part of the river, as drought conditions in the state have made the river impassable to the young fishRobert Galbraith/Reuters
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Houseboats sit on blocks at Lake McClure in La Grange, California, on March 24, 2015Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
california drought
Water level lines are visible along the banks of Lake McClure in La Grange, California, on March 24, 2015Justin Sullivan/Getty Images