Low River Flows are a top concern of Western Voters
The State of the Rockies poll is an annual survey conducted by Colorado College to track conservation attitudes in the West. 6 states are included in the poll: MT, WY, CO, UT, NM, AZ. The poll traditionally focuses primarily on public lands issues but has included 1-2 water oriented questions. The trends since 2011/2012 show that water supply is an increasing concern for voters in the West.
2015 General Highlights
Water worries tie economic ones in the West
In a significant shift from past years, water is now more likely to be viewed by Western voters as an extremely or very serious problem on par with unemployment. In the past year, perceptions of unemployment, typically the most concerning economic issue, have declined. Conversely, the intensity of concern about low level of water in rivers has increased slightly. Clearly, overall both are viewed as at least somewhat serious problems, but economic concerns have faded in intensity, so that this water issue now eclipses the economic problem. (See chart on Water Fact Sheet attached)
2014 - 91% concerned about unemployment (54% extremely) 82% concerned about low levels in rivers (50% extremely).
2015 - 86% concerned about unemployment (46% extremely) 84% concerned about low levels in rivers (53% extremely).
Voters in Arizona and New Mexico are most apt to say that “low level of water in rivers” is an extremely or very serious problem (61% and 68% respectively), as do Hispanic voters (66%).
Similarly, four-in-five voters (80%) point to “inadequate water supplies” as a serious problem in their state, with one half (50%) saying it is an extremely or very serious problem.
Perceptions of water supplies as a problem has increased every single year the survey has probed voters’ views of this issue.
Voters vastly prefer using the current water supply more wisely, rather than diverting more water from rivers in less populated areas of the state.
In Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, the poll probed views of potential solutions to these water woes. Three-quarters or more in each of these states say that in order to deal with future water shortages, they would prefer the state encourage more water conservation, recycling of water, and reducing use of water. This sentiment cuts across partisan, racial, and gender lines. Moreover, it is just as strong a view as what was found last year.
Water clearly matters to Western voters. A majority say that clean water is one of the primary factors, along with clean air and the environment, in deciding to live and stay in the West.
More than half (57%) of voters cite the clean air, clean water, and environment as a significant factor for living in the West, more than any other reason. This is one of the top reasons voters across the political spectrum, and in every state provide as a significant factor in their decision to live in the West.
It is clear that voters in the West are concerned that water will not always be clean in their home state.
Voters in the west are worried about the pollution of rivers, lakes, and stream, with 79% saying it is a serious problem. Forty-three percent (43%) say it is an extremely or very serious problem. Two critical voter sub-groups that tend to decide elections in these states, Hispanics and suburban women, are especially concerned about water pollution.
2015 Colorado River Basin States Highlights
According to the new poll, Arizonans are also more worried about the state’s water supply than voters in most of the rest of the region, and it is a concern that is on the increase.
89% say that the low levels of water in rivers is a serious problem, with 61% calling it an extremely or very serious problem – ten points higher than said the same last year.
87% say that inadequate water supplies are a serious problem and 58% categorize it as extremely or very serious problem - 12 points higher than said the same in 2013.
Voters also view the amount of pollution in the state’s rivers, lakes, and streams as an issue that needs to be addressed (83% serious; 45% extremely or very serious).
Coloradans – like Westerners overall – place the environment, public lands, and the related outdoor lifestyle emanating from those as the biggest factors in drawing them to the state and keeping them here.
Water is another issue about which Coloradans are concerned. Fully 82% view the low levels of water in rivers as a serious problem facing the state. As these very issues are debated here in development of a state water plan, voters continue to maintain that conservation is key. Three-quarters of Colorado voters prefer that the state encourage more water conservation and reuse rather than diverting more water from rivers in less populated areas of the state.
Water is another issue that weighs on the minds of Utah voters, with 82% citing inadequate water supplies as a serious problem.
Voters (85%) also worry about the low levels of water in rivers and the continued pollution of rivers, lakes and streams.
When it comes to addressing water in their state, 79% of Utah voters strongly prefer conservation of the current water supply, rather than diverting more water from rivers in less populated areas (14%).
When they think of their reasons for living in Wyoming, clean air and clean water top the list, followed by the healthy outdoor lifestyle that allows, just as others do across the West.
Six in ten view low levels of water in rivers as a serious problem facing the state.
They are also confident that conservation, rather than diversion, is key to addressing potential water shortages. Three- quarters (74%) side encouraging conservation, reducing use, and recycling of water as an approach over diverting water from less populous areas (15%).
Voters in the state have major concerns about the water supply in the state.
Eighty-five percent (85%) say inadequate water supplies are a serious problem in the state, with 62% saying the problem is extremely or very serious. Residents also worry about the low levels of water in the state’s rivers, with 89% saying this is a serious problem.
To access the full report, visit the State of the Rockies website
Colorado River Basin Supply Study
American Whitewater's staff and contractors are working to develop quantitative metrics that help the US Bureau of Reclamation evaluate impacts to recreational stream-flows across the Colorado basin.