Survey: Most Oregonians concerned about water management

August 2, 2021
Survey: Most Oregonians concerned about water management

Seven out of 10 Oregonians are concerned about how the state’s groundwater and surface water are being managed. Most Oregonians say the answer to resolving water problems is increasing state subsidies for high-efficiency irrigation equipment.

Those are two findings in a recent survey conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a Portland-based nonprofit. The survey was conducted statewide in July and involved 1,464 respondents. It carries a margin of error of 1.5% to 2.6%.

Results of the survey show that while Oregonians are largely concerned about water issues, many believe that there is enough water to serve all needs and shortages are not likely to occur. These opinions are being expressed while the entire state is in some form of drought.

According to the U.S. drought monitor, more than half of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought. Coastal areas and the Willamette Valley are in moderate or severe drought.

Key findings in the survey show that a quarter of respondents are not very or not at all concerned about the management of surface and groundwater.

The survey suggests age as a factor in determining who is concerned about water management. Around 63% of people age 18 to 44 said they are somewhat or very concerned while around 74% of those over 45 were concerned.

Concern also increased with education — 60% of those with only a high school diploma said they were concerned with the number rising to 76% for those with a college diploma.

Party affiliation also played an important role in how people felt about water management — 78% of Democrats said they were somewhat or very concerned while 61% of Republicans fell into this category.

Survey respondents had a variety of opinions about the management of groundwater by farmers and ranchers. Subsidizing water-efficient irrigation systems received the strongest support among mitigation strategies, along with increasing the state budget for groundwater research to ensure future availability. Both fell into the so-called tier-one support category for having the support of 70% or more of survey respondents, according to the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center.

“It’s notable that neither proposal involves more restrictions or limitations on agricultural water usage, but rather encourages and facilitates proactive solutions,” according to the survey. “Both proposals do, however, necessitate larger financial investment from the state.”

Tier-two proposals to conserve water — those that had 50% to 60% support — include proposals to require groundwater users to submit annual usage reports to regulators (59% overall support) and to require meters on all groundwater wells (54% overall support).

Proposals that received the least amount of support include capping total water use and creating a market allowing users to buy and sell portions of their allotments. These received just 35% total support. They also received the greatest amount of opposition, with 46% of respondents saying they oppose the proposals.

The proposal to prohibit wells that deplete surface water received the highest percentage of unsure answers (21%), which indicates lower levels of awareness on this issue, according to the survey.

The largest gap in the survey was found in opinions about a proposal to require meters on all groundwater wells. Just 40% of rural Oregonians support this proposal compared to 60% of urban Oregonians. The report notes that this is not surprising given that groundwater wells are more common in rural areas.

The survey also broke down the responses by ethnicity. It summarized that Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color differ from white Oregonians only slightly in their level of overall concern about how surface and groundwater are managed. White Oregonians were only slightly more concerned — 69% vs. 64%.

There were minor differences between ethnic groups in whether they supported state funding for groundwater research. However, the groups tended to align when it came to solutions. The results varied only a percentage point or two in most response categories, according to the Oregon Values and Briefs Center.


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An aerial view of a body of water.