SR-17† Public Perceptions, Preferences and Values for Water in the West: A Survey of Western and Colorado Residents

Irrigated agriculture is a primary water user in the western United States, but rapid population growth is driving a reallocation to urban areas. By 2030, an estimated 33 million additional people are projected to be living in the West, requiring approximately 30 billion more gallons of water for consumption (Western Governorsí Association, 2006). Water continues to move from farms to cities, with expected and sometimes unexpected results. The social, economic ,and environmental results of these water transfers are important yet are sometimes not well understood. Growth and subsequent water conflicts are often focused in agricultural areas where key water resources are fragile and scarce, as pointed out in the Bureau of Reclamationís Water 2025 Report. The purpose of this study is to benchmark the publicís view of water reallocation issues with particular focus on households. An internet survey is used to gauge the publicís perceptions in the areas of water knowledge, perceived water scarcity, strategies for easing scarcity in the short and long run, reinvestment in rural communities that lose water as part of their economic base, household conservation of water resources, preferences in public policies and institutions, and attitudes about wildlife and water.

Survey responses from 6,250 individuals in the West (17 states) provide several water-related themes. First, respondents generally believe that water is scarce in the West, conditions are more difficult outside of their home state rather than within it and that scarcity will increase in the future. In the short term, respondents prioritize household and agricultural water use over landscape watering. When addressing long-term scarcity, respondents prefer reservoir construction and reuse systems over other acquisitions and, in particular, are not in favor of water transfers from agriculture. In order to pay for capital investments, respondents target increased fees for the heaviest water users and increased fees for new development. Respondents are not averse to limiting growth and joining water and land use planning in order to address long-term scarcity.

A majority of respondents are willing to pay additional fees on their summer watering bill to fund water related programs. The willingness to pay for pursuing different long- and short-term water management strategies is calculated. The least popular programs include increasing household water efficiency by subsidizing efficient water appliances. Respondents are in favor of household conservation, but are split on whether these programs should be voluntary or mandatory. Survey results suggest a preference for local control of household conservation standards; yet, respondents do not feel they are well represented in water policy and institutions. A vast majority support changes in current water law.

A number of other issues, including rural reinvestment options, the tradeoffs between the economy and environment, and water for wildlife are considered in the study.

Demographics of the respondents are also reported at the studyís end. Responses are adjusted where appropriate to be representative of the western U.S. (or Colorado) population using census data. It should be noted that this report provides a summary of survey findings but does not contain a comprehensive statistical analysis of the data.