Public Opinion Poll Shows Increasing Support for Water Supply Diversification Amid Drought

Short Title
Poll Shows Increasing Support for Supply Diversification
New research highlights concerns, attitudes and actions related to water
April 23, 2015

The vast majority of San Diego County residents – 84 percent – support the region’s water supply diversification strategy, according to the San Diego County Water Authority’s most recent public opinion poll presented to the Board of Directors on Thursday. The survey also showed that 87 percent of respondents believe using water efficiently is a civic duty, while more than half said they could conserve more at home and support mandatory measures to cut water use. Overall, the results indicate that severe drought conditions have translated into a growing appreciation for the value of water across the region.

For more than 15 years, the Water Authority has performed periodic public opinion research to determine San Diego County residents’ knowledge and attitudes regarding water issues. The latest poll of 1,000 adults in San Diego County was conducted by Probe Research from March 16 to April 1, the day Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order that mandated 25 percent water-use reductions statewide.

“These survey results show San Diego County’s residents are highly engaged in water issues and understand that a reliable water supply is critical for our region’s $206 billion economy and our quality of life,” said Mark Weston, chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “They agree that using water efficiently is a civic duty that we all share, and they realize that our region must continue to diversify our supplies while taking aggressive actions to conserve. These attitudes and opinions inspire confidence that together we can get through this drought.”

On April 14, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s board of directors voted to reduce water supplies to the Water Authority and MWD’s other customers by 15 percent starting July 1. On May 5 or 6, the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to adopt water-use reduction mandates to implement the governor’s April 1 executive order to reduce water use 25 percent statewide starting June 1.

The Water Authority’s Board will consider establishing fiscal year 2016 water delivery reductions for its 24 member agencies at a special meeting on May 14, along with other regional drought response actions.

MWD’s actions and the governor’s mandates were driven by extended hot and dry conditions statewide. Snow water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack on April 1 was just 5 percent of its historical average – the lowest since snowpack records began in 1950 – which means there will be no significant runoff during the summer and fall when California’s water demands typically increase.

Even before the executive order was issued, Water Authority poll results show that water supply concerns were by far the county’s most prominent top-of-mind issue, after ranking second in 2014. Thirty-three percent of respondents identified the most important issue in San Diego County as water supplies or drought, three times more than the second-most prominent issue of poor economic or employment conditions (10 percent). No other issue garnered a response by more than 5 percent of respondents.  Water-related issues ranked far higher as a top-of-mind issue in the 2015 survey than they did in 2009 (18 percent), when the region last faced mandatory supply cutbacks.

More than eight-in-10 respondents (81 percent) reported taking some sort of action to reduce their water use following the onset of mandatory water-use restrictions in August 2014.  The most common specific water-saving actions were taking shorter showers (38 percent) and reducing outdoor watering (32 percent). However, 54 percent of respondents strongly or moderately agreed they could do more to conserve water at home, in line with the 2014 figure of 53 percent.

A reliable water supply was widely viewed as important for San Diego County, with 88 percent of respondents saying it is essential for a healthy economy, while 86 percent agreed it is essential to their quality of life. An overwhelming majority of respondents – 84 percent – supported the Water Authority’s long-term strategy to enhance water supply reliability by diversifying the region’s water sources. In the 2014 poll, the diversification strategy was supported by 79 percent of respondents.

In addition, an increasing number of respondents considered water to be a good or excellent value – 67 percent in 2015 compared to 56 percent in a similar question asked last year.  Forty-three percent of respondents felt the cost of water was “about right” (up significantly from 29 percent in 2014), and 7 percent said it was “less than it should be.” Forty percent of respondents said water costs more than it should, down from 53 percent last year.

Additional findings include: 

  • Eighty-five percent of respondents strongly or moderately agreed that the current water supply situation is very serious.
  • More than seven-in-10 respondents (71 percent) were very or somewhat familiar with mandatory water-use restrictions in the San Diego region.
  • More than six-in-10 respondents (62 percent) strongly or moderately agreed that water agencies should use mandatory rather than voluntary restrictions to cut water use during the current drought.
  • More than seven-in-10 respondents (71 percent) felt it is possible to purify recycled water to augment drinking water supplies.
  • A similar number (73 percent) strongly or moderately favored using advanced treated recycled water as an addition to the drinking water supply.
  • The single most important thing that local water agencies can do to respond to continued dry conditions is increase enforcement, according to 21 percent of respondents to an unaided question. The second most common suggestion was more/better public outreach and education (11 percent of respondents).
  • Four out of every five respondents said they “always” wait to wash their dishes or clothes until they have a full load (80 percent) and quickly repair leaks in toilets and faucets (81 percent). Both items scored similar to last year.
  • Almost half of respondents (48 percent) said their home had a grass lawn that is not artificial turf. Of those, 75 percent indicated at least some willingness to consider replacing their front lawn with a low-water-use landscape.
  • Forty percent of respondents strongly or moderately agreed that they would be more motivated to reduce their home water use if they knew that their neighbors were using less water than they were. Thirty-six percent strongly or moderately disagreed.
  • Two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) deemed the county’s current water supplies somewhat or very reliable, down from 70 percent in 2014.
  • When asked about their single most pressing concern about the future of water in San Diego County, supply reliability ranked as the top future water-related concern by 40 percent of respondents, five times more than the second most-cited concern, quality (8 percent).

Probe Research conducted the 2015 survey by a random telephone sample of 500 respondents (including 128 respondents who only use a mobile phone), and 500 online respondents chosen from a custom panel of San Diego County residents who have agreed to participate in online surveys. All participants were at least 18 years old and had lived in the county for at least one year.

Because an online survey is a sample of convenience – rather than a probability sample – no margin-of-error can be ascribed to the overall combined survey sample. However, comparisons of results across the two samples provide a high degree of confidence that the survey accurately reflects public opinion in San Diego County on water-related issues. A strict probability sample of 1,000 adults (i.e. no online component) would have a margin of error of ± 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. 

The full results of the 2015 poll and prior polls are available at www.sdcwa.org/public-opinion-research.