Bipartisan poll finds spiking concern over water supply and climate change in Colorado and Western states

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Evidence of low water at McPhee Reservoir near Dolores can be seen in the rocky shore ringing the lake, as jet skiers carve a pattern in the water near Doc’s Marina on Sunday, August 29, 2021.

A bipartisan poll has found spiking concern over environmental issues among residents across the Intermountain West, particularly worries about water resources and climate change. 

The 12th annual “Conservation in the West Poll” from Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project surveyed 3,400 registered voters across eight Western states, including Colorado. The results, collected in January, also suggest broad and growing support for policies promoting environmental stewardship and those increasing protections for and access to public lands.

CPR operates KRCC, which is owned by Colorado College.

In a video chat with reporters on Thursday, both the Republican and Democratic pollsters who conducted the survey said the data show environmental issues could be a rare point of greater unity in a time when many issues are becoming more divisive and partisan. 

“That is emphatically not the case when we're looking at issues relating to conservation. We have not seen partisan hardening,” said David Metz, the Democratic pollster on the project. “In fact, we've actually seen some movement from voters on the right to actually express higher degrees of concern about many of these issues.”

Concerns about inadequate water supplies saw the largest increase among respondents since the polling began in 2011. In that year, 40 percent of respondents ranked the issue as “very serious” or “extremely serious.” By 2020, that had risen to 45 percent. 

Those concerns surged in 2022, with 70 percent of respondents saying inadequate water supplies were a very or extremely serious issue. 

Worries about climate change have also intensified among survey respondents, from 27 percent of respondents in 2011 calling it a very or extremely serious problem to 52 percent in the 2022 poll.

Pollsters asked some state-specific questions about proposed conservation efforts. They found 89 percent of Coloradans support protecting the existing corridor of public lands surrounding Dolores River Canyon, near the Utah border. Sen. Michael Bennet released a draft bill last year that would designate the region a National Conservation Area.

Last year, the pollsters started including racial demographics in their breakdown of survey responses. The results show a generally higher level of concern about environmental issues among people of color.

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