By: Paul Bentz
Mark Twain may or may not have said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” However, whether the quote is authentic or not, the sentiment most definitely is. Fighting over water is a storied part of Arizona’s rich history, and these battles continue today as we face the effects of a 17-year drought and an incredibly low amount of rainfall for January.
What is interesting to note, however, is that it isn’t just our leaders who are taking notice. In fact, the latest from State of the Rockies Project in their Conservation in the West Poll shows that people in Arizona are starting to understand that water issues are a big deal. While there were a lot of other issues explored in the survey, the water questions stood out to me as very significant.
The bipartisan poll released by Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates reflect similar trends that we have seen in survey research that we have performed for other clients – particularly, an increase in awareness and concern regarding water issues. You can click here to check out their Arizona data.
A couple of things about water that stuck out in the survey:
“Low level of water in rivers” was far and away the top issue tested in the issue matrix. 60% of respondents deemed it an extremely serious or very serious issue. That is nearly ten points higher than pollution, loss of habitat, and nearly 20 points higher than unemployment.
The second highest issue tested was “inadequate water supplies” with more than half of respondents (54%) considering it extremely/very serious. What was even more interesting to me is that their tracking showed that the number has increased by 10 points since 2012 – a significant surge.
We also like to look at intensity, and so we did some quick math and put the issues on a four-point scale. “Low levels of water in rivers” scored a 2.57 and “inadequate water supplies” scored a 2.43. The only other issue with even similar intensity was “uncontrollable wildfires” at 2.44. Everything else was in the 1.83 to 2.26 range.
You can also see similar intensity when the conversation turns to the Colorado River. A staggering 94% of Arizonans believe that the Colorado River is a “national treasure that should be protected.” It also received high marks for tourism (92%) and being critical to the state’s economy (88%).
However, it was surprising to see that, in comparison, fewer believed that the river was “at risk.” 73% believed that the Colorado River was at risk which is down from 84% two years ago. The number is on par with the results from Colorado (79%), Nevada (75%), and Utah (73%). But it should still be at least a little troubling to our leaders considering that while shortage on the Colorado has not been declared for 2018, most people believe that we are not out of the woods for 2019.
Overall, we have been tracking top issues facing the state for the past several years. While education continues to remain the top issue, we are starting to see water concerns trend upward across all partisan segments. Our internal research has shown that concerns with adequate water supplies, water levels, and long-term availability are important to all segments of voters – including high-efficacy Republicans.
Only time will tell if this trend will continue and if other issues may impact its public perception. It will also be very interesting to see whether any Arizona policy-makers demonstrate the kind of collaborative, far-sighted leadership that produced successes on water conservation and policy in our past. Arizona was built by those who were able to come together to solve our biggest water challenges and it will likely require that kind of collaboration to move our state forward. Voters understand this – let’s hope our leaders do as well.