Gov. Brown offers $1-billion drought plan amid latest grim data

Downtown Los Angeles has already set a record for the number of 90-degree days in March

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a $1-billion drought relief plan Thursday amid a historic state drought and one of the longest stretches of March heat ever recorded in Southern California.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Report issued Thursday, snow packs in the Sierra Nevada are at record or near-record lows. The amount of rain in the mountains this current water year -- which began Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30 -- is at least 10 inches below normal levels.

MORE: Gov. Brown, lawmakers announce emergency drought measures

The mountain snowpack acts as a natural reservoir that in a normal year can hold as much as a third of the state's water supply, slowly releasing it throughout the spring as seasonal water demand rises.

“To exacerbate matters, average temperatures were well above normal,” giving California its warmest winter ever recorded, the report says.

Downtown Los Angeles' heat records for March were broken last week, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures downtown hit at least 90 degrees four straight days -- the first time that’s happened since record-keeping began. It was also the first time that any four days in the month topped 90 degrees.

Brown’s relief plan comes amid growing concern for the state’s dry conditions. A recent storm over Southern California poured only half an inch of rain in some places.

On Tuesday, the State Water Board tightened its watering restrictions, telling urban agencies to limit the number of days residents can water their yards. 

The board also warned that it will impose even tougher restrictions in coming months if local agencies don't ramp up conservation efforts.

"We are not seeing the level of stepping up and ringing the alarm bells that the situation warrants," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

The board also warned it would impose stricter limits if local agencies don't make greater inroads in their conservation efforts.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which imports supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River, is expected next month to consider allocating regional water deliveries, as it did during the 2007-09 drought.

That will have a ripple effect throughout the Southland as local agencies react, probably by increasing water rates and adopting stronger conservation measures.

Staff writers Chris Megerian and Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

11:47 a.m.: This post has been updated to reflect that Gov. Jerry Brown has announced the drought plan.

This story was first published at 9:31 a.m.

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