A new public opinion poll finds that water quality ranks as Northwesterners’ top environmental concern.
Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall Research asked 1,200 residents in Washington, Idaho and Oregon about their environmental concerns. Sixty percent said they worried about drinking water. Fifty-four percent said they were concerned about local lakes, rivers and streams. Those results track with previous polls.
People said they were happy overall with the water that comes out of their tap.
DHM Research’s John Horvick says most survey respondents thought that water quality has not improved since the implementation of the Clean Water Act 40 years ago. He says that finding surprised him.
“Because people do value their water so highly, I would have guessed that they would have said things had improved more over time,” Horvick says.
Nina Bell is Northwest Environmental Advocates’ executive director. She has worked as a water quality watchdog for more than 20 years.
Bell says there is a reason why people don’t think water quality has improved: The Clean Water Act did not go far enough in regulating non-point source pollution. That comes from things like logging, farming and grazing runoff.
“By and large, these very, very large sources of pollution are not regulated, or are inadequately regulated by the states,” Bell says.
DHM’s John Horvick says respondents also thought stormwater runoff is the greatest source of water pollution. Many of these answers came from the Seattle area.
“I think if we would have asked this question three, four, five years ago, we would have seen people say instead something like factories or industry dumping waste, which was a second-tier issue here,” Horvick says. “The awareness of stormwater runoff as a source of pollution is increasing in people’s minds. … In the past, it was easy to look at that industry, that business that was dumping something into the water and say, ‘That’s the cause of our problem.’”
People in the Portland area were concerned about untreated sewage. Idaho respondents were worried about agricultural chemicals and fertilizers.
The survey’s margin of error is 2.8 percent.