Polling in advance of California’s new groundwater law

A California groundwater poll released in the midst of severe drought found strong support for better management of the state’s aquifers.

In July 2014, the Water Foundation hired two pollsters—Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates—to analyze public opinion on the issue as part of the effort to support passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

The graphic below summarizes the results of the poll, which found high levels of concern about groundwater. Respondents also endorsed the essence of SGMA, which requires communities to come up with plans for better managing their groundwater basins. Californians were aware of and concerned about the problem. They wanted something done about it. And they wholeheartedly agreed with every element in the proposed groundwater policy.

California groundwater poll dashboard

Bipartisan support for action on groundwater

Results from the poll, released through the Groundwater Voices Coalition, gave a boost to the campaign to pass SGMA and demonstrated strong, bipartisan support for addressing California’s overdraft of its groundwater aquifers. Here’s how the coalition framed the results in their press release:

Republicans and Democrats largely agreed on the crisis and need for major changes. For example, 80 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats surveyed agreed that “allow(ing) anyone to take water from wells without considering impacts on others” was a cause of the groundwater problem. And 81 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans support “giving local communities increased ability to manage their local groundwater.”

Amongst Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander voters that support was even higher at 87 percent of Latinos and 89 percent of Asian Pacific Islanders saying they support “giving local communities increased ability to manage their local groundwater,” compared with 78 percent of white voters. Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander voters were also more likely than white voters to support “major changes now in the way we manage groundwater supplies.” According to the survey, 85 percent of Latino voters supported “major changes,” compared with 79 percent of Asian Pacific Islanders and 76 percent of whites.

SGMA was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014 and marked a major departure from California’s laissez-faire approach to managing groundwater. I haven’t seen any polling about California groundwater issues since the law was passed, but if any readers have seen new data, please contact me.


Here are some details about how the survey was conducted:

The survey was conducted by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R). From July 6-9, 2014, they conducted 1,201 telephone interviews with California voters likely to cast ballots in November 2014, on both landline and wireless phones. The survey included 800 interviews with a random statewide sample of voters, and an oversample of 400 voters in the Central Valley; all responses have been statistically weighted to reflect the true geographic distribution of likely voters through the state. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.


For more background on SGMA, check out the state’s website and this handbook from the Water Education Foundation.

You can also download these resources:

California groundwater poll California groundwater poll press release

California groundwater poll California groundwater poll data


WaterPolls.org aggregates, analyzes, and visualizes public opinion data on water-related issues. Stay informed via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, RSS, and email.