It’s no surprise Westerners are worried about water shortages right now. But you might be surprised to hear how willing they are to take action, even in their own front yard.
The 2023 Conservation in the West Poll, the 13th conducted by the State of the Rockies project at Colorado College, found that attitudes around conservation in the region haven’t changed much over the past decade — although Westerners have become more concerned about water shortages over the past several years, polling showed. What’s more, respondents demonstrated a high level of support for a wide range of policies supporting efficient water use, infrastructure, and recycling initiatives.
According to the results of the poll, released Wednesday, 86% of respondents said the Colorado River was vital to their states’ economies. Ninety-six percent of respondents were concerned about current water shortages in the West, and 50% said the shortages represented a serious crisis.
The poll surveyed the attitudes of over 3,400 residents of Colorado and eight other western states. In Colorado, 87% of respondents were concerned about water shortages, and 81% supported financial incentives for replacing high-water-use landscaping with water-conserving landscaping.
Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning at Denver Water, said that the polling results are just what he would’ve expected. Per-person water use has been declining for years, he said, and total water use in the utility’s service area is around the same level it was at in the early 1970s. Coloradans have generally been conservation-minded for decades. Nowadays, a good snow year may temporarily ease worries about drought, Fisher said, but Coloradans are well aware of the long-term reality of the situation.
“They’re really paying attention and understanding which way we’re headed in terms of water availability,” he said.
Concern over water conservation has risen substantially since 2011, when 75% of respondents in all states said water supply shortages were a serious problem, according to the poll. Now, that figure has risen to 86%, down slightly from 89% in 2022.
Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker said he was glad to see a sustained rise in awareness among Coloradans about the water crisis. He said he’s hopeful people will continue to address the issue with the urgency it warrants.
“People are paying attention, and they’re taking action, which is even better,” he said. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Yes, I believe in this.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘Yes, I believe in this, and I want to do something about it.’”
Aurora Water’s efforts to conserve water have enjoyed a significant boost in popularity. For example, Baker said, applications have about tripled for its Grass Replacement Incentive Program, which provides financial compensation to residents who wish to transition their lawn to a xeriscape using plants that require no irrigation. It’s just one way that people are making their support for water conservation known.
Part of the rise in awareness may be generational, Baker said, as millennials and Gen Z begin to take more interest in issues that will directly affect their future. He hopes that this boost in investment is sustained, and that public approval for water conservation doesn’t subside in the future.
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Sufficient awareness of the issue is a good foundation, Fisher said, but what Colorado really needs next is action. As the climate continues to change, the public can contribute to efficient water use by adopting practices such as low-water landscaping. Many seem willing to pitch in, he said, and the state should take advantage of it.
“We obviously need to do more right now,” Fisher said. “From what I’ve seen, our customers are ready. What we need to do is help them go do it.”