Poll: Californians say drought is top state problem, neighbors not doing enough

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(Photo Credit: Rachael Pasch/Flickr)

A new poll shows many Californians not only think their neighbors are not doing enough to conserve water, they’re saying the state’s drought has dethroned the economy as the top issue facing the state.

In a Public Policy Institute of California survey released Wednesday, 39 percent of adults polled said water and the drought was the state’s most important problem for the first time in the poll’s history, taking the place of jobs and the economy (20 percent).

“Public concern about the drought is at a record-high level today,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Most Californians are satisfied with the governor’s actions, but a sizable number say the mandatory water reductions have not gone far enough.”

It’s quite a flip from last year at this time, when 33 percent polled named the economy as the top state issue, while water was picked by 12 percent in PPIC’s Californians and Their Government poll. A sizeable majority, 60 percent, said their neighbors and people in their area of the state are not doing enough to conserve.

Some regional differences popped up in the poll numbers, too. While 69 percent polled said water supply in their region was a huge problem, residents of the Central Valley and Bay Area were the most likely to say water and the drought represent the biggest problem for the state (53 and 42 percent, respectively).

Those opinions likely added to the reason both regions produced a higher-than-average reduction in water usage for April, compared with April 2013. But, the entire state only saw a 13.5% reduction, well short of Governor Jerry Brown’s goal of 25 percent statewide via new stringent water restrictions.

As for that new reducation goal, 46 percent of residents surveyed said the restrictions are a reasonable amount of response to the drought situation but 36 percent said they didn’t go far enough.

While Californians at least are taking a serious look at water usage — and the usage of their neighbors — there’s a big opportunity for state and local governments to get buy-in for investments and water governance reforms that will help the state be better prepared for the next drought.

As the experts the Summit has featured in our water coverage have said, California not only needs more long-term investment in the state’s aging water infrastructure, but for smarter investment that encourages more comprehensive governance of the fragmented water system—and more comprehensive solutions to the state’s water challenges.

As for the state’s current drought-related investments, those provide the opportunity to create incentives for the integrated approaches essential to advancing the triple bottom line—simultaneously protecting the environment, supporting diverse economies, and increasing opportunities for all Californians.

In an effort to promote sustainable strategies, the California Economic Summit’s Roadmap to Shared Prosperity highlighted in its goals ensuring $7.5 billion in new funding is distributed to sustainable water projects with watershed-wide focus, instead of using the fragmented water district model.

This, then, is one of the central challenges water legislation must sort out, as Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority General Manager Celeste Cantú told us last year: “Now we need to figure out how to push these groups together and allow larger, more effective watershed-based groups to emerge. The question is: How do we get back to the original idea—to get all of the water managers in a watershed to work together on projects that involve the same drops of water?”

Earlier this year, the Summit laid out three ways state leaders charged with implementing the Prop 1 water bond can accomplish infrastructure goals drawn the Summit’s Roadmap, which is a long-term plan for putting all of the state’s regions on a path to sustainable growth:

1. Refine the state role. The Summit has encouraged state leaders to use the water bond to advance state goals for water resiliency—with state government providing financial incentives and gap financing for projects that meet the priorities outlined in the California Water Action Plan.

2. Support integrated, multi-benefit projects across watersheds. Summit leaders have also urged the state to ensure Prop 1 advances the new paradigm where the state sets goals and regions compete to craft strategies that deliver the most benefit.

3. Maximize return on investment: The Summit letter makes the case that the bond’s language sets the bar high—and gives the Summit’s civic leaders an opportunity to work with lawmakers to ensure these funds help California begin the long journey to water sustainability.

So, clearly, the drought won’t be solved by just letting out lawns go brown and spending emergency funds wisely but also making sure water projects and governance reforms actually improve the water system with long-term sustainability in mind. 


John Guenther

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