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Poll shows drought a major issue among Californians

Posted: July 30, 2009 6:33 p.m.
Updated: July 30, 2009 6:33 p.m.
A new poll shows drought is the most important environmental issue for nearly 20 percent of Californians, but residents prefer the state focus on water conservation instead of increasing supply.

SACRAMENTO -- Nearly one out of five Californians (18 percent) named water supply and drought as the most important environmental issue, a nearly four-fold percentage increase from last year, according to the new annual Public Policy Institute of California Survey, Californians and the Environment.

Despite this rising concern, the poll also showed that more Californians (50 percent) prefer that the state focus on water conservation and efficient use of the current supply than those who favor building storage systems and increasing the water supply (43 percent).

"While our water supplies are dwindling, this poll shows California voters still are keeping their cool, and they expect the legislative leaders to do the same," said Kathryn Phillips, director of the California Transportation and Air Initiative for Environmental Defense Fund.

"Voters want the legislature to weigh all its options and come up with a comprehensive, sustainable and long-term water supply solution. That solution must include incentives for efficiency, water for the environment, and a more robust water market that prices water right, discourages waste and rewards efficient uses," Phillips said.

Legislative leaders have indicated that they are determined to get a package of Bay-Delta water-related measures through before the end of the session, an extraordinarily fast and ambitious schedule for such a complex set of issues.

Moreover, the Schwarzenegger administration continues to express support for an estimated $10 billion bond measure to finance more fresh water storage, even though billions have been spent since 2000 on the problem without providing reliable water supply or environmental benefits.

"After the bruising budget battle, a quick and expensive fix isn't the answer," said Cynthia Koehler, senior consulting attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. "We cannot simply build our way out of the water problem. Some new infrastructure may be part of the solution, but that needs to be determined through careful analysis and clear public debate."

"We can respond to the water challenge by becoming more water efficient, similar to California's response to the energy crisis in 2000," Phillips said. "At that time, Californians flexed their power and became more efficient users, even as they began finding better, less environmentally damaging and more reliable ways to develop new energy."

"We shouldn't toss out environmental protections critical to preventing the extinction of Chinook salmon and other species," Koehler said. "Instead, we can learn to balance our water supply needs with needs for environmental protection by looking at long term and sustainable solutions."

"California's water supply system is built upon outdated rules and regulations that don't work for many farmers and certainly isn't working for the environment," Phillips said. "While some farmers are getting full allocations of water, others such as those in west side Fresno County are not. We can rationalize our water use in California and we can work to provide incentives that reward efficiency, but these steps will require out of the box thinking, innovation and reforming how water was used and governed in the past."

"We can build a robust water market that moves water from willing sellers to its most efficient use," Koehler said. "We can protect our vital salmon heritage and wildlife by allocating sufficient flows for fish and other wildlife by 'capping' the amount that can sustainably be removed from the Bay-Delta. We can end the endless cycle of environmental litigation and we can have sustainable supplies of water for farms, cities and for wildlife."




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