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California Regulators Approve Mandatory Water Restrictions

FILE - A boat paddle is shown on the bottom of the nearly dry Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, California January 21, 2014.

California's water regulators have approved steep mandatory cuts in water usage as the western U.S. state struggles amid a catastrophic drought now in its fourth year.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted 5-0 Tuesday on a plan that calls on cities and local agencies to reduce water usage by amounts ranging from eight percent to 36 percent in cities that use the most water. The mandatory restrictions are the first of their kind imposed in California.

Recent figures released by the board show that Californians reduced their water usage by less than four percent in March compared with the same month in 2013.

Some water suppliers lobbied against the new regulations during Tuesday's hearings, saying the restrictions unfairly target communities that have been conserving water since before the drought, and would impose an economic burden on some areas.

An economic analysis of proposed restrictions commissioned by the water resources board estimated the new rules could cost local water suppliers as much $1 billion in revenue.

The new regulations were approved just weeks after Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order for all residents and businesses across California to cut their water usage by 25 percent. Brown issued the order during a speech in a barren area of the Sierra Nevada mountain region that would usually be covered in several centimeters of snow.

California receives much of its water from the winter snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but the current drought has led to the lowest snow levels ever recorded.