In the wake of one of the most significant droughts in California’s history, public confidence in the reliability of the San Diego region’s water supply has grown to extraordinarily high levels, according to the San Diego County Water Authority’s most recent public opinion poll. Residents also continued to show strong support for the region’s water supply diversification strategy, using water efficiently and the value of water compared to other utilities.
The Water Authority has performed periodic public opinion research for more than 17 years to determine local residents’ knowledge and attitudes regarding water issues. The latest poll of 1,001 adults in San Diego County was conducted by Probe Research from May 3 to May 25, approximately a month after Gov. Jerry Brown ended the statewide drought emergency he declared in 2014. Water Authority staff presented poll results to the agency’s Board of Directors last week.
An overwhelming majority (83 percent) of respondents viewed the region’s water supply as somewhat or very reliable, outpacing results in the 2015 (65 percent) and 2014 (70 percent) surveys. Overall, 80 percent of respondents in 2017 had a positive outlook on San Diego County’s water supply, believing it is improving (41 percent) or holding steady (39 percent).
Residents continued to show overwhelming support (79 percent) for the Water Authority’s supply diversification strategy, which includes Colorado River water transfers, water-use efficiency, local supply development efforts such as groundwater and recycling, and the addition of desalinated seawater in late 2015 from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Meanwhile, public trust in water agencies to ensure the region has a reliable long-term supply of water is rising. Nearly six in 10 residents now hold that confidence, up from 48 percent in 2014 and 51 percent in 2015.
“Coming out of this most recent drought that challenged so many communities across the state, it’s great to see that the public feels more secure about our region’s water supply reliability than before,” said Mark Muir, chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “Our residents continue to support supply diversification, are willing to continue to use water efficiently no matter the weather, and recognize the need to ensure ongoing water security for our region’s 3.3 million people and $222 billion economy.”
As state regulators develop a new long-term policy for regulating water use statewide, poll respondents strongly supported taking a balanced approach to water management in California. Two-thirds (66 percent) indicated the best way for the state to meet future water needs is to both save water and make investments in local supplies. Only 28 percent said the best strategy is to focus principally on saving water.
While the state’s emergency water-use reduction mandates have ended, San Diego County residents maintained a widespread belief in the need to continue using water efficiently. An overwhelming majority of poll respondents – 92 percent – predicted they will use less or about the same amount of water in 2017 as they did the year before. Only 5 percent predicted they will use more. In addition, 81 percent said water-use efficiency is a civic duty.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents said water is a good or excellent value compared to other utilities, consistent with the 2015 poll. However, very few residents (1 percent) could accurately estimate how much tap water costs. About half (53 percent) were unsure, and 17 percent perceived the cost to be more than $1 per gallon. After respondents were informed that the retail cost of municipal tap water in the San Diego region is about one cent per gallon, 76 percent said it was a good or excellent value.
Although the public’s willingness to pay more for additional local water supply development has slipped, there was still a significant reservoir of support for such costs in the 2017 poll. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) said they would not pay more for additional supplies, up from 16 percent in 2015. Nearly a third (32 percent) were open to such costs in 2017, with the mean willing to pay $7.78 more per month. Nearly half (44 percent) said they were unsure or would require more information.
Additional findings include:
- Water supply reliability was no longer seen as the most pressing issue facing San Diego County, as it was in the 2015 survey. Only 6 percent of respondents cited water supply/drought as top-of-mind issues on an unaided basis. Affordable housing came in as the most prominent top-of-mind issue, with 13 percent of responses.
- A reliable water supply was widely seen as important for San Diego County, with 84 percent of respondents saying it is essential for a healthy economy and 80 percent agreeing it is essential for their quality of life.
- Four in 10 (40 percent) respondents expected to pay more for a reliable water supply even while they are reducing their water use.
- More than four in 10 respondents (41 percent) moderately or strongly agreed that additional rate increases are necessary to support regional water supply reliability, a slight decrease from 2015 (44 percent), but still above 2014 levels (33 percent).
- A majority of residents (56 percent) agreed that it costs more to provide a reliable water supply in San Diego County than in most other parts of the country.
- About half (51 percent) agreed that they could do more to conserve water at home; 22 percent disagreed.
- Supporters of mixing advanced treated recycled water into the supply of drinking water (61 percent) significantly outweigh opponents (31 percent).
Probe Research conducted the 2017 survey by a random telephone sample of 500 respondents (including 150 respondents who only use a mobile phone), and 501 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 2017 poll and prior polls are available at www.sdcwa.org/public-opinion-research.