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Californians and Water Conservation

David Kordus June 22, 2015
SprinklerYard

In our May statewide survey, we found that 60 percent of Californians think people in their part of the state aren’t doing enough to respond to the current drought. The prevalence of this belief varies somewhat across regions. It turns out that Californians’ assessments of their neighbors’ efforts generally align with their area’s water conservation levels.

Earlier this month, the State Water Resources Control Board released conservation statistics for April 2015, showing how much each of the state’s ten hydrologic regions reduced its monthly water use compared to April 2013. This data shows that statewide water use declined by 13.5 percent in April, and that reductions ranged widely across the state. The South Coast region, which includes Los Angeles and neighboring counties, had a reduction of 8.75 percent, while the northeastern North Lahontan region (on the Nevada border) had a reduction of 37.5 percent.

For our survey, we interviewed at least 80 residents in 5 of the state’s hydrologic regions (the Sacramento River, San Francisco Bay, San Joaquin River, Tulare, and South Coast). When we compared survey responses about water conservation efforts with the water use reductions in these regions, we found that perceptions and reductions are aligned in almost all areas.

In the Sacramento River region, which had the biggest cut in water use among the five regions considered, residents were most likely to say that people in their area are doing the right amount to respond to the drought. These residents were also least likely to say people in their area aren’t doing enough. Responses in the region were split about evenly between “the right amount” (41%) and “not enough” (40%).

In contrast, residents of the South Coast—the region with the smallest cut in water use—were most likely to say that people in their area aren’t doing enough to respond to the drought and the least likely to say people are doing the right amount. In this hydrologic region, residents were more than twice as likely to say people aren’t doing enough (63%) than they were to say that people are doing the right amount (25%).

This pattern holds across the state, with one exception. The San Francisco Bay hydrologic region’s conservation rate is second best, yet its residents are the second most likely to be critical of conservation efforts in the area. This contrast between satisfaction with conservation efforts and conservation results might be attributable in part to ideology. Statewide, liberals (67%) were more likely than moderates (60%) or conservatives (52%) to say people in their area aren’t doing enough, and the San Francisco Bay region has a relatively high concentration of residents who identify themselves as liberals (41%). Also, water use in the Bay Area is historically lower than in other parts of the state, so conservation may be a deeply ingrained positive value.

What this comparison of survey responses with water use statistics tells us is that many Californians seem to have a good sense of how well their communities are doing in addressing the drought. Whether this sense comes from observations of neighbors, knowledge of their own behavior, or signals from local government and agencies, it suggests that Californians know what is needed to combat the drought.

Chart note: Survey responses are sorted by county into hydrologic regions. Counties that fall into more than one hydrologic region are assigned to the region where most of the population lives.

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