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Calif. governor defends farmers’ exemption from water restriction

SACRAMENTO — Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday defended his order requiring Californians statewide to cut back on their water use in a historic mandate that spares those who consume the most: farmers.

As California endures a fourth year of drought, Brown’s order last week requires towns and cities statewide to draw down water use by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. Although past reductions were voluntary, Brown said he is using his emergency powers to make the cuts mandatory.

On ABC’s ‘‘This Week,’’ Brown said the order does not extend to California farmers, who consume 80 percent of the state’s water supply but make up less than 2 percent of the state’s economy, because farmers are not using water frivolously on their lawns or taking long showers.

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‘‘They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world,’’ he said.

Brown said that before the cutbacks, some California farmers had already been denied irrigation water from federal surface supplies, forcing them to leave hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted. Many vulnerable farm laborers are without work, he said. Farmers who do not have access to surface water have increased the amount of water pumped from limited groundwater supplies.

The mandatory order will also require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries, and other large landscapes to curb their water use.

Associated Press