Gov. Jerry Brown thanks foot soldiers in conservation battle

Gov. Jerry Brown thanks foot soldiers in conservation battle
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Assn. of California Water Agencies conference in Sacramento on May 6. State regulators have ordered communities to slash water use by as much as 36%. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The day after regulators approved unprecedented restrictions on using water during California's drought, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday faced hundreds of people who will be tasked with enforcing the rules.

In a speech to a convention of local water agencies, Brown thanked them for taking up the challenge.

"You are the front lines. You know that," Brown said. "We're going to back you up."

On Tuesday evening, California's water board approved new regulations requiring a 25% reduction in statewide water use. Many local water agencies complained about the targets, saying they were too stringent or unfair, but Brown received a standing ovation when he finished his speech.

He was also handed a plaque and a water bowl, which was branded with a logo for the state's campaign to urge conservation, for his dog, Sutter.

In his speech, Brown defended his administration's work on water infrastructure in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. He said officials have logged 1-million hours of work on plans for the project, which has been the subject of stiff criticism from advocates concerned about its impact on the environment.

"Until you put a million hours into it, shut up!" Brown said, drawing a big laugh from the crowd.

Brown, who is serving his fourth and final term as governor, said he didn't want to leave office without getting the project rolling. Otherwise, he joked, "I'll just have to come back and run for governor 40 years later!"

Opponents of the governor's proposal for water tunnels said they had no plans to back off.

"We will not go away and we will not shut up," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. "He is ignoring the voice of the people."

Given the thousands of comments submitted criticizing the governor's proposal, she said, "our whole coalition has probably spent more hours and more time studying the project" than state officials.

Follow @chrismegerian for more updates from Sacramento.