Latest Poll On All Water Bonds

Poll: Strong support for state water bond -- and for local water bonds too

POSTED:   09/24/2014 06:21:07 AM

An epic drought and wave of wildfires have left California voters thirsty for the $7.5 billion state water bond on November's ballot -- and also anxious to approve local bond measures to supply more water, a wide-ranging new poll finds.

Water-policy experts are cheered by the overwhelming public concern, but worry that it could be washed away if heavy rains return this winter.

A whopping 72 percent of likely voters now say water supply is a "big problem" in their corner of the Golden State, up 11 points from just two months ago, the Public Policy Institute of California found. And when asked what's the most important issue facing the state's residents today, 29 percent of Californians name water and drought, second only to jobs and the economy at 32 percent.

Leon Szeptycki, who directs the Water in the West project at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment, said the poll's findings aren't surprising given that "it's a historically severe drought and a lot of communities are suffering." But, he added, "it's a longstanding phenomenon that the public's interest in doing something about water doesn't last long beyond the drought."

Likely voters support Proposition 1, the water bond, by 2-1 -- 58 percent to 29 percent, with 14 percent undecided. Majorities of Democrats and independents favor it, and more Republicans are for it than against it. Support is greatest in the Bay Area and the Inland Empire.

Local water districts are no doubt rejoicing that 67 percent of likely voters -- including 77 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 56 percent of Republicans -- said they would vote yes if their district had a bond measure on the ballot to pay for water supply projects. Again, Bay Area residents were the most likely to say yes -- although no big water districts in the South Bay or East Bay have bond measures on the November ballot.

Nevertheless, Abby Figueroa, spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, said the poll's findings are good news for urban water districts like hers.

"It bodes well for California's future that voters today are more aware of how precious water is and how critical our state's infrastructure needs are," she said, adding that EBMUD has been able to cope with the current crisis both through longstanding conservation efforts and through a pipeline tapping Sacramento River water. "Our customers' conservation and support for heavy investments in water infrastructure over the past two decades have paid off. We'd expect investments in other parts of the state to have a similar effect."

But water expert Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, said "in general, water agencies have been a bit behind the curve."

"This is not the first year of the drought -- this is the third year, and there are things we should've done a year or two ago that we're still not doing."

He said those things include not only planning ahead for infrastructure bond measures but also aggressively encouraging people to replace inefficient fixtures and tear out water-intensive lawns and other landscaping.

Planners should have been ahead of public opinion, not waiting for it to come around after months of drought warnings and wildfire alerts, Gleick said. "It would be nice if our leaders led rather than followed. But it's great to see greater public awareness, and I hope our policy leaders will take advantage of that awareness."

Stanford's Szeptycki is doubtful they will.

He said a deluge of public concern clearly helped drive this year's bipartisan bargain in the Legislature on the statewide water bond, as well as the state's first-ever groundwater regulation laws.

But "a lot of the public momentum goes away when the drought is over" -- which, he said, is the most important time to start planning for the next one.


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