Poll: Most Californians Say Drought Is Very Severe

Most Californians agree the state’s drought situation is very serious, but only a minority of voters say they and their families have been significantly impacted by the current water shortage, according to a new poll. .

The survey of more than 9,000 voters statewide found that 71% said the state’s water shortage was “extremely severe,” while 23% described it as somewhat severe. .

Far fewer of those voters indicated they were directly feeling the effects of the drought, according to the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Only 9% said they and their families had been “a lot” affected by the current water shortage, and 32% said they had been somewhat affected, while 57% said they had been “a little bit” or not affected at all. .

That’s a notable change from 2015, during California’s last major drought, when a similar poll found 58% said they were at least somewhat affected by water scarcity at that time. , and that 76% described the shortage as extremely serious.

“What strikes me is that it doesn’t really directly affect as many voters as you might think,” said Berkeley IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo. During the current drought, he said, the water shortage “really hasn’t been felt as widely by voters, at least not until now.”

The survey results did not directly address why this might be. But months before this October 2015 election, at the height of the 2012-2016 drought, then governor. Jerry Brown has ordered cities and towns to cut their water use by 25% as part of mandatory statewide restrictions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken a different approach, calling on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% while giving local water providers more leeway to adopt conservation measures.

In large parts of Los Angeles County, there are mandatory restrictions limiting outdoor watering. Many LA County voters who participated in the survey said they had no trouble complying, but a large majority also said they were already doing everything they could to retain.

When asked how easy or difficult it was to comply with water restrictions, 44% of LA County respondents said complying had been easy, 13% said it had been difficult, and 43% said they didn’t know or have no opinion. Tenants were more likely to have no opinion. Among owners, 55% said it was easy to comply with water restrictions. About 1 in 5 owners said compliance had been difficult, but only 3% said it had been “very difficult.”

The poll found some differences between regions and demographic groups, with older voters, homeowners, Latino voters who speak mostly Spanish, and voters in the Central Valley somewhat more likely than other groups to say they have been affected by water shortage.

The share of voters who said they were at least somewhat affected ranged from a low of 27% in Orange County to a high of 52% in the San Joaquin Valley.

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are facing severe cuts in water supplies and have been drawing on groundwater while leaving large swathes of farmland dry and unplanted. With falling groundwater levels, hundreds of domestic wells have gone dry in the region over the past year. The state has received reports of 966 dry wells across California so far this year, a 72% increase from the same time last year. Many of the wells that have dried up are in agricultural areas, mainly affecting low-income residents.

Eighteen percent of those who live in the San Joaquin Valley said they have been impacted “a lot” by water shortages, more than any other area in the state.

To the north, in the Sacramento Valley, 42% said they were somewhat or very affected. This matches similar percentages in many other parts of the state. In Los Angeles County, 42% said they were affected, with 9% saying they were affected a lot.

The results indicate that people in agricultural areas are feeling the effects of shortages more than those in other parts of the state, said Faith Kearns, a scientist at the California Institute for Water Resources.

“My feeling is probably that in urban areas people are largely buffered, although in some areas people have been asked to reduce their landscaping water and things like that,” Kearns said. “But I think for most people when they go to turn on the tap the water still comes out. And so they’re not as deeply affected by that, if you’re not in an area where you see the effects of water shortage every day.

The poll found that Californians have conflicting and uncertain views on agricultural water use. Voters polled statewide were split on whether they think farmers are “doing their part to reduce their water usage to help the state through the drought.” Twenty-nine percent said yes and 28% said no, while 43% said they didn’t know.

Voters were also split when asked if the state’s residential users were doing their part, with 32% saying they were doing it, 42% saying they weren’t, and 26% saying they were doing it. didn’t know.

‘Commercial and commercial water users’ scored more negatively, with 48% saying they don’t do their part, compared to 13% who said they do and 39% who said they don’t know .

The “don’t know” camp was larger (45%) when people were asked if they thought California’s drought rules and water restrictions were “implemented fairly” for these three types of water. water users.

Kearns said she finds it striking that many people have no opinion on whether agricultural water users are doing enough to reduce their water use.

According to state data, agriculture uses about 80 percent of the water diverted and pumped in an average year in California, producing crops such as hay, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, grapes, rice and many other fruits and vegetables.

These survey responses, Kearns said, reflect “where education and water conservation campaigns have been focused, that is, individuals at the household level.” And she said the findings underscore the need for more awareness about how water is used in California.

“The fact that so many people don’t know what they think about agricultural water use and, to a lesser extent, commercial water use, means that there is work to be done. to better understand more systemic water use issues,” Kearns said.

Californians strongly agreed, across all regions and demographics, that the state’s current water shortage is extremely serious. Democrats, voters 65 and older and those living in the Bay Area and Central Coast were among the most concerned.

California’s extreme drought, now in its third year, is exacerbated by rising temperatures with global warming. A new water supply plan released this month by Governor Gavin Newsom outlined a series of actions to prepare for an estimated 10% decrease in California’s water supply by 2040, as climate change continues to bring hotter and drier conditions.

Many Californians seem to agree that it’s time to ditch the thirsty grass and switch to drought-tolerant landscaping. Seventy-two percent said they thought it was important for homeowners to make permanent landscaping changes by removing lawns and installing plants that don’t require a lot of water.

On this and other water policy issues, there were differences between Democrats and Republicans, and between voters who describe themselves as liberals and conservatives. Asked about lawn removal, 85% of Democrats said they thought such landscaping changes were important, while only 49% of Republicans agreed. Republicans were also more likely to say California’s water restrictions are being implemented unfairly.

DiCamillo said he thinks those differences mostly reflect how conservatives and Republicans “are less likely to support those kinds of restrictions on what you can do with your own life and your own property.”

However, the partisan divide was narrower than on many other issues and a majority of all political persuasions agreed on the seriousness of the water situation.

“It’s pretty hard to find things where the majority of people agree these days,” Kearns said. “People obviously really care about these water issues.”

In another question, LA County voters were asked, “Do you think you and your household are already doing everything you can to conserve water?” Seventy-two percent said yes, while 20% said no and 8% said they didn’t know.

“If you feel like you’ve done everything you can to change your landscaping and take shorter showers and do all that kind of stuff, but there’s still this shortage of water, then where are you- you ?” said Kearns. “For me, it’s more about these large-scale issues like agricultural and commercial water use, and the feeling that people feel like they don’t really know if these sectors are doing enough.”

“It ties into this idea that maybe we need a little more systemic look at California water use on a large scale, and that residents are probably actually quite ready to have a deeper understanding. , beyond their own households, water in the state,” she said.

The poll was conducted online in English and Spanish from August 9-15 and surveyed a random sample of 9,254 registered voters in California. It has an estimated margin of error of 2 percentage points in statewide results and 2.5 percentage points in LA County results.

Times editor David Lauter contributed to this report.

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