By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, April 1 (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown, acting in the face of a devastating, multiyear drought, ordered the first statewide mandatory water restrictions on Wednesday, directing cities and communities to reduce usage by 25 percent.

Brown, who made the announcement at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains, said the move, which comes as California reports its lowest snowpack levels on record, would save some 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months.

"We're standing on dry ground and we should be standing on five feet (1.5 metres) of snow," said Brown, a Democrat. "This is rationing. We're just doing it through the different water districts."

The governor said he was also ordering that 50 million square feet (4.6 million square metres) of lawns across the state be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping and the creation of a consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with newer, more water-efficient models.

Brown last week signed emergency legislation that fast-tracks over $1 billion in funding for drought relief and water infrastructure within the parched state.

The proposed legislation would appropriate voter-approved bond funds to speed up water projects and programs and provide aid to struggling California cities and communities.

Earlier in March, the state Water Resources Control Board imposed new drought regulations, outlawing lawn watering within 48 hours of rain and prohibiting water from being served in restaurants unless a customer requests it.

The state is entering the fourth year of record-breaking drought that has prompted officials to sharply reduce water supplies to farmers and impose strict conservation measures statewide.

In California, the drought lingers despite storms that brought some respite in December and February.

The storms helped fill some of the state's reservoirs higher than they were at this time last year but most still have less water than historical averages show is typical.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Eric Beech)