Poll: Public concerned over pollution in rivers and quality of drinking water

Voters around the country identified clean water as a top concern and a large majority prefer cleaning up polluted waters to drinking bottled water, according to a national poll released recently by American Rivers, the Waterkeeper Alliance, River Network, the American Canoe Association, and dozens of river and watershed groups across the country.

"Rivers are the source of tapwater for most Americans, and voters want both to be clean and safe," said Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers. "Americans shouldn't fear for their health when swimming in their local rivers, much less turning on their household taps."

Key findings include:

  • When given a choice, 85 percent of voters preferred that "elected officials take significant action to address problems with our water to ensure its safety," over "adjusting to problems with our water by buying bottled water."
  • 60 percent of voters would be at least "somewhat worried" to learn that their tapwater was drawn from local rivers and streams. (20 percent "very worried" and 14 percent "extremely worried")
  • More than half (51 percent) believe that water in their local rivers has gotten at least "somewhat dirtier" over the past decade.
  • Fifty percent were at least "somewhat concerned" that that the tap water in their homes was safe to drink. An additional 28 percent said they were a "little concerned" about its safety.

"Americans want our clean water laws strongly enforced," said Steve Fleischli, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. "Public officials are not doing their job when they allow pollution into our rivers it costs us money and it imperils our health."

The poll found similar attitudes in many regions of the country, with some exceptions:

  • New York had the highest percentage of voters (71 percent) that would be at least "somewhat worried" to learn that their tapwater came from local rivers and streams.
  • Michigan and New York tied for the highest percent of voters (59 percent) indicating that their local rivers had gotten at least "somewhat dirtier" over the past decade.
  • Colorado had the highest percentage of voters (58 percent) who believe there is at least "somewhat less" water in local rivers than ten years ago and the highest level of general concern (62.1 on a scale of 0 to 100) over "communities having enough water."
  • Alabama had the highest percentage of voters (32 percent) reporting that they "drink only tap water."

In response to the survey, more than 500 river and watershed groups, sporting and recreation groups, and businesses across the country issued a policy platform, the Citizens' Agenda for Rivers, calling on local officials across the country to take stronger action to protect the clean water in rivers and streams around the country.

"Rivers not only provide us with the water we need, they are part of our natural heritage," said Paul Sanford with the American Canoe Association. "We need to protect rivers from pollution and overuse so that our children and grandchildren can go canoeing, fishing and swimming with their families, too."

Lake Snell Perry Mermin and Associates surveyed 1,000 registered voters, ages 18 and older nationwide and oversamples of 200 registered voters in the following five states: Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, New York and Washington. The survey was conducted between April 14 and 20, 2005. The margin of error for the survey is +/-3.1 percent and the margin of error for the oversamples in the states is +/-6.9 percent. Poll results are available here: http://www.americanrivers.org/site/DocServer/RIVER_POLL_FOR_PUBLIC_RELEASE.pdf?docID=1801.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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