Most Californians Still Don't Care About the Drought

by | June 6, 2014 AT 7:40 PM

By Bettina Boxall

Most Californians surveyed say the statewide drought has had little or no effect on their daily lives, and a majority oppose the suspension of environmental protections or large-scale public spending to boost water supplies, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Although 89 percent characterize the drought as a major problem or crisis, only 16 percent say it has affected them to a major degree.

Despite widespread news coverage of the drought _ one of the worst in recent decades _ the state's major population centers have largely escaped severe mandatory rationing. Even agriculture, which as California's biggest water user is hit the hardest by drought, has partially compensated for reduced water delivery by pumping more groundwater.

That has softened the drought's effect on many, apparently blunting the desire for drastic remedies and big spending on water projects. While Central Valley congressmen and some agribusiness interests have blamed environmental regulations for worsening the water shortages, those polled cited a much broader range of causes.

Topping the list was a lack of rain and snow and people using too much water, followed by insufficient storage and climate change.

"They're really blaming larger forces here," said David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican firm that conducted the opinion survey with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm. "What they don't want to see is quick fixes at the expense of the environment."

The survey showed strong support for water recycling, capturing stormwater, increasing underground storage, voluntary conservation and seawater desalination. A smaller percentage, though still a majority, favored building new dams and reservoirs.

But when it comes to paying for the projects, the numbers flipped. Only 36 percent want to improve storage and delivery systems by spending public money.

"As soon as you inject spending into it, support dries up," said Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

The telephone survey of 1,511 registered California voters was conducted from May 21 to May 28 for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

A large majority of those surveyed, 87 percent, said they were trying to save water by taking shorter showers, flushing toilets less frequently and making other changes in their domestic routines. Two-thirds say they are watering their lawns less, and roughly a quarter say they've ripped out lawns and replaced them with drought-tolerant plants.

The numbers are largely unchanged from the results of a USC-Times poll conducted in September that gauged support for state borrowing to finance water-supply improvements. Legislators are now trying to work out a water bond to place on the November ballot.

"I think it's trouble for passing a water bond," Lieberman said, "if the 'no' side spends money" this fall.

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times