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For Your Information - Sizing Up Water Woes

POSTED August 21, 2012 11:15 p.m.

Water ‑ and how to protect it in the face of worsening drought conditions ‑ is now a hot topic across America.

Faced with record-breaking 2012 summer heat, 81 percent of Americans are concerned about “increased drought” and other extreme weather conditions, according to a major new survey conducted for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI). In addition to the national poll data, more detailed results were presented for the drought-hit states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Texas.

Conducted July 26-30, 2012, the CSI survey found that concerns about drought go hand in hand with worries about water shortages and also how to avoid making them worse. Three out of four Americans think that “with all the current concern about severe drought and the risk of water shortages, America needs to start focusing more on alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, that require less water.”

Other key findings include the following:

* Shortages of safe drinking water due to drought and “the diversion of water for energy production” is the No. 1 overall worry in the 10 drought-stricken states with 63 percent “very concerned,” reaching highs of 74 percent in Florida and 71 percent in Georgia. Nationwide, nearly two thirds (64 percent) of Americans are “very concerned” about the prospect of “possible shortages of safe drinking water” due to drought and diversion for energy production. This issue is topped nationally only by concerns about higher food prices (66 percent), and is trailed by higher gasoline prices (61 percent), higher utility bills (49 percent), and diminished recreational activities (24 percent).

* About two out of three Americans (65 percent) think “the national government needs to do more to address extreme weather impacts.” In drought states, views on this issue are strongest in Nevada (69 percent) and Florida (76 percent).

* Americans want an energy/water “road map” for the U.S. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans (89 percent) believe that “U.S. energy planning and decision making must be made with full knowledge and understanding about the availability of water regionally and locally, and the impact this water use from specific energy choices has on their economies, including agricultural production.”

We now understand all too well the harsh realities of the current drought and its relationship to changes in the climate from global warming. In 2005, the Congress mandated that the U.S. Department of Energy produce a water/energy roadmap. Seven years later, we have neither a roadmap nor even a general understanding of what water resources we do have. We don’t know what the competition between energy, agriculture, industrial and residential uses will mean for food security and the dependability and costs of energy sources that are reliant on increasingly scarce water. The sad truth is that we are flying blind today when we could have had the foundation for a national water/energy plan in place years ago.

Other key survey findings include:

* Seven out of 10 Americans support a “precautionary principle” approach to addressing water and energy issues. The 70 percent endorsed the following statement: “The precautionary principle would advocate a conservative approach to the use of technologies that may put public health at risk and create irreversible environmental harm. If there is not enough scientific evidence showing that it is safe, precaution should guide decisions in those cases.”

* Two thirds of Americans now think that climate change is “real” or “appears to be happening.” Only 6 percent of Americans now say that climate change is “definitely not happening.” Residents in nine out of 10 drought states – ranging from a low of 63 percent in Texas to highs of 76 percent in Florida and 80 percent in California – are as or more likely than the rest of America to think that climate change is real.

* About two in five Americans (39 percent) have “personally experienced the impact of drought in the last year.” In drought-hit states, this jumps to highs of 74 percent in Missouri, 69 percent in Texas, 63 percent in New Mexico, and 62 percent in Colorado.

For full survey findings, go to http://www.CivilSocietyInstitute.org on the Web.

Based in Newton, MA, the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (http://www.CivilSocietyInstitute.org) is a think tank that serves as a catalyst for change by creating problem-solving interactions among people, and between communities, government and business that can help to improve society.

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