For First Time, Water Tops List Of Californians’ Concerns

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More than three times as many Californians are following news about the drought than are following news about the state’s gubernatorial race. A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 62 percent of voters are following the drought very closely while only 18 percent are following the election very closely. About another 30 percent were following each “fairly closely.”

This isn’t just because incumbent Democratic governor Jerry Brown leads his Republican opponent by 16 points. For the first time since 1998 when the PPIC began asking what the most important issue facing the state is, water and drought are at the top. Taken earlier this month, 26 percent of respondents to the statewide survey said “water, drought” were the most important issues facing the state right now. That is a statistical tie with “jobs, economy” which got 29 percent as the PPIC poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.

October 2014
29 percent – jobs, economy
26 percent – water, drought
6 percent – education, schools, teachers
4 percent – crime, gangs, drugs
4 percent – health care, health reform, Obamacare
4 percent – immigration, illegal immigration
4 percent – state budget, deficit, taxes

“That’s an incredible number,” Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, told KQED. “It’s been the duration of this [three-year] drought and the fact that it’s affected every corner of the state, that’s made people realize that it’s not a short-term issue; it’s a long-term issue. I think there’s a fundamental shift going on.”

As recently as January, only seven percent responded to the poll saying that water or drought were the most important issues facing the state. Now 72 percent are saying that the supply of water is a big problem in their part of the state — a number that holds whether the person responding is a coastal or inland resident. The survey queried 1,704 residents throughout California, interviewed in English or Spanish by landline or cell phone.

The strong concern for water and drought issues also translated into support for Proposition 1 on the state’s Nov. 4 ballot. The proposition will authorize $7.5 billion for water quality, supply, treatment, and storage projects. The poll found that 56 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes on the proposition, 32 percent no, and 12 percent don’t know. Gov. Brown is heavily supporting the proposition, however detractors consider it an overly expensive effort that will fail to address the root causes of the state’s water problems and overcompensates the agricultural industry.

“There’s a lot of concern over water, a lot of desire to do something,” Baldassare said. “Proposition 1 is seen by the voters as something that can be done now.”

Sixty-two percent of the respondents said that state and local governments are not doing enough to respond to the drought, while 28 percent said the government is doing the right amount.

“Whatever the outcome in November, voters will want more action on water and the drought next year,” Baldassare said.

Only three percent of respondents to the poll said that “environment, pollution, or global warming,” were the most important issue facing the people of California. However, the acute and immediate impacts of water scarcity and drought and the effects of long-term climate change in California are heavily linked. A recent study that quantified the risk of devastating, prolonged drought in the U.S. due to global warming found that California, especially southern California, is around 50 percent more susceptible to megadroughts over the next century.

A recent National Science Foundation study also found that the record drought in California is directly tied to climate change.

Earlier this month the state experienced a record-breaking heat wave and currently more than 80 percent of the state is in extreme drought. Millions of people are already being impacted by watering restrictions, more expensive groceries, and increased danger from forest fires.

A recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that this winter — the state’s typical rainy season — isn’t likely to bring much relief in the form of above-average precipitation.

“Complete drought recovery in California this winter is highly unlikely,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, in releasing the analysis. “While we’re predicting at least a two to three percent chance that precipitation will be near normal or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits (in rainfall) the recovery will be slow.”