San Diego Residents Would Pay More for Water, Survey Finds

July 27, 2003

Many San Diego, Calif., residents don't sweat it over money when it comes to water issues, according to a survey released last week by the San Diego County Water Authority. The majority of respondents who actually pay for their water said they'd be willing to pay more, and they wouldn't really care about proposed financial incentives to make their lawns smaller.

Furthermore, over 20 percent of the people who pay for their water said they didn't even keep track of how much they paid every month.

These results, however, shouldn't be taken as a mandate to dramatically increase water rates, said Mark Watton, a member of the County Water Authority's board. "The survey showed there was some elasticity to how much in increases the people would tolerate but there's definitely a cap to it. It's not a blanket approval of all the county's projects," he said.

Watton was the same member of the board who raised vociferous objections to further progress on the county's plans for a desalinization plant to be located in Carlsbad, Calif. The board approved a plan Thursday to award Rick Engineering a $540,000 contract to survey the systems that will be needed to transfer the desalinated water to pipes that can send it on to consumers.

Watton said he felt like the preliminary measures to get the desalinization plant constructed were being "stampeded" through the board.

It seems that's the way the public wants it. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said they thought it would be a "good idea" to construct a desalinization plant.

The survey randomly polled 603 county residents – more than two-thirds of whom were homeowners.

Richard Parker, who conducted the survey, said most of the people who objected to the idea of desalinated water did so not because of environmental concerns but because of worries about the water's taste and cleanliness.

Parker is a professor at SDSU and partner of Rea and Parker Research that conducted the survey along with the Social Science Research Laboratory of San Diego State University.

Parker said there was a "huge" agreement among the public with the county's plans to pursue alternative water sources.

Of the 48 percent of the population who pay water bills and know how much they pay monthly, 52 percent indicated they would pay an average of $19 more per month. That was the average, though, which can be skewed by people who would be willing to pay extraordinary amounts more for water than most others.

The median increase people would be willing to pay – the point at which half the respondents would pay more, half less – was $10 per month. Only 3 percent of people said they would be willing to pay an additional $40 or more. Thirty-three percent of those who were aware of the amount they paid every month said they wouldn't willingly accept any increase at all.

Parker and the research staff he coordinated wrote in the final report they submitted that the results of the survey should be "very gratifying" to officials of the County Water Authority. "The near unanimous support for the diversification programs and the growth of the level of awareness, magnitude of concern, and support for the Imperial Irrigation District water transfer are extraordinary," they wrote.

The researchers recorded a significant increase in the public's awareness of issues such as the Imperial Irrigation District, or IID, water transfer. More than 80 percent of respondents reported having at least some concern about the increasing demands on the Colorado River and what kinds of negative effects that could have on future water reliability. Twice as many people are aware of the IID transfer as were during a similar survey in 2000.

Source: San Diego Daily Transcript