A third year of punishing drought has kept water top of mind for many Californians, according to a new PPIC survey on Californians and the Environment. This marks the third year in a row that Californians named drought and water supply their highest concern among environmental issues. Wildfire and climate change also made the top three. Strong majorities want state and local governments to do more to address drought and climate resilience, and they support ambitious climate action from the state.
Drought remains the dominant environmental issue for Californians
A near-record high 68% of Californians say water supply is a big problem in their part of the state, and solid majorities agree regardless of political affiliation or region. This approaches the level of concern reached near the end of the 2012–16 drought, reflecting another fast-moving and severe drought that has impacted normally water-rich areas of the state the most.
For three in ten adults, water supply and drought are the most important environmental issue facing the state. Californians are feeling the drought in their day-to-day lives. A rising number of households report their drinking water wells are going dry, and emergency water suppliers are struggling to keep up. Residents of small communities are especially at risk. For urban dwellers, particularly in southern California, new restrictions on outdoor watering have meant tightening water use since June.
The Newsom administration has urged residents statewide to voluntarily curb water use by 15%, and in June 2022 enacted a new emergency regulation that bans watering decorative turf grasses on commercial properties. They also have directed unprecedented funding to drought resilience, including boosting water supplies for the long run.
But many Californians—68%—don’t feel that government is doing enough to combat the drought. And while 45% of Californians say that they personally have done a lot to reduce water use recently, a strong majority think that people in their part of the state are not doing enough. While it’s true that urban water use didn’t decline much this past spring, ramped up conservation efforts since the beginning of summer have started to bring water savings.
Wildfire and climate change remain important issues for residents
This year, wildfire is the most important environmental issue for 13% of Californians—similar to 17% last July. Forty-five percent of residents consider it a big problem in their part of the state, with widespread concern across political leanings and demographic groups. The first half of 2022 saw relatively mild wildfire activity compared to last year, but blazes have grown in number and intensity in recent weeks, and the ongoing drought has put many areas at higher risk.
For 11% of Californians, climate change is the most important environmental issue, which is nearly the same as last year’s 13%. About seven in ten adults (69%) feel the effects of climate change have already arrived, and 80% view climate change as a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the state and to their individual quality of life. Most Californians still believe that drought (77%) and wildfire (76%) are linked to climate change.
General appetite for climate action continues, but political divides remain
We continue to see broad support for state policies to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. About seven in ten (72%) support the 2030 target to reduce emissions to 40% below 1990 levels, similar to a year ago. A similar share of adults favors SB 100, the state law requiring 100% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2045, and 74% think that developing alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydrogen technology should be a priority. But these measures generally lack bipartisan support.
California’s challenges are urgent, and the state has shown strong willingness to dedicate its budgetary surplus to environmental goals. The Newsom administration has released plans to accelerate action on climate measures, including budget items for speeding up the environmental review process for clean energy projects and for elevating carbon neutrality into state law. And along with drought resilience and response, the legislature recently adopted a $21 billion climate and energy package that includes funding for wildfire and forest resilience. Recently passed federal climate legislation will be an important and timely backdrop for these efforts. Given the severity of looming environmental threats, continued state attention on these matters will be critical—and public opinion clearly supports more swift action from government.