A third year of punitive drought has kept water top of mind for many Californians, according to a new PPIC Californians and the Environment survey. This is the third year in a row that Californians have named drought and water supply as their top concern among environmental issues. Forest fires and climate change are also among the top three. Strong majorities want state and local governments to do more to address drought and climate resilience, and they support ambitious state climate action.
Drought remains the dominant environmental problem for Californians
A near-record 68% of Californians say water supply is a big problem in their part of the state, and strong majorities agree, regardless of political affiliation or region. This is approaching the level of concern reached towards the end of the 2012-2016 drought, reflecting another severe and rapid drought that affected 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 everyday lives. A growing number of households are reporting that their drinking water wells are drying up and emergency water providers are struggling to keep up. Residents of small communities are particularly at risk. For city dwellers, especially in Southern California, new restrictions on outdoor watering have resulted in tighter water use since June.
The Newsom administration urged residents across the state to voluntarily reduce water use by 15%, and in June 2022 enacted a new emergency regulation that prohibits the watering of decorative lawns on commercial properties. . They have also earmarked unprecedented funding for drought resilience, including increasing long-term water supply.
But many Californians (68%) believe the government is not doing enough to address the drought. And while 45% of Californians say they’ve personally done a lot to reduce their water use lately, a strong majority think people in their part of the state aren’t doing enough. While it’s true that urban water use didn’t drop much last spring, the intensification of conservation efforts since early summer has begun to result in water savings.
Wildfires and climate change remain important issues for residents
This year, wildfires are the most important environmental issue for 13% of Californians, up from 17% last July. Forty-five percent of residents consider it a big problem in their part of the state, with widespread concern among political leanings and demographic groups. The first half of 2022 has seen relatively moderate wildfire activity compared to last year, but fires have increased in number and intensity in recent weeks, and the ongoing drought has put many areas at risk. higher.
For 11% of Californians, climate change is the most important environmental issue, which is almost the same as 13% last year. About seven in ten adults (69%) believe that the effects of climate change have already happened and 80% consider climate change to be a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the state and their individual quality of life. Most Californians still believe that drought (77%) and wildfires (76%) are linked to climate change.
General appetite for climate action continues, but political divides persist
We continue to see broad support for state policies to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. Around seven in ten (72%) support the 2030 target to cut emissions to 40% below 1990 levels, as of a year ago. A similar proportion of adults support the SB 100, the state law requiring 100% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2045, and 74% believe the development 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 a strong willingness to spend its budget surplus on environmental goals. The Newsom administration released plans to accelerate action on climate action, including budget items to speed up the environmental review process for clean energy projects and to elevate carbon neutrality in state legislation. . And alongside drought resilience and response, the Legislature recently passed a $21 billion climate and energy program that includes funding for forest and wildfire resilience. The recently passed federal climate legislation will provide an important and timely backdrop to these efforts. Given the seriousness of the impending environmental threats, continued state attention to these issues will be critical – and public opinion clearly supports faster government action.