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Survey gauges Ohioans views on water resources

Safe drinking water is Ohioans’ No. 1 environmental priority, according to a survey sponsored by Healthy Water Ohio (HwO). Water quality outweighs all other environmental concerns including air quality, waste disposal, quantity of water supplies, land use and coping with weather extremes.

The survey of 1,000 Ohio voters aimed to identify the issues citizens care about relative to the quality, quantity and health of the state’s water resources.

HwO is a statewide coalition committed to developing a long-range plan to sustainably meet current and future water needs while enhancing the economy and quality of life for all Ohioans. Stakeholders include individuals and organizations connected to conservation, business and industry, universities, water suppliers, agriculture and others. The survey was conducted by Saperstein Associates, Inc.

When asked to rate the importance of several water issues, 88% of respondents said safe drinking water was very important, ranking it higher than protecting fish and wildlife habitat, repairing aging water systems, providing adequate water for commerce and industry, dealing with natural disasters and preserving water for recreation and tourism.

Half of the voters said Ohio’s water resources are in good condition, 33% rated them fair, 7% poor and 6% excellent. Sixty percent say the quality is holding steady while 17% said it is getting worse and 16% said it’s getting better. Regarding their tap water, 48% rated it good, 28% excellent, 17% fair and 6% poor.

Voters said discharge from factories and industrial plants was the most serious source of pollution followed by trash and litter, runoff from farms, discharge from sanitary sewers, hydraulic fracturing, discharge from septic systems, residential runoff, construction site erosion and wildlife. Regarding regulations related to water quality, when asked what level of government should take the lead, 54% said state government, 30% said local and 13% said federal. Fifty-five percent favored incentives to reward good environmental behavior while 36% favored imposing penalties to punish bad behavior.

Another 55% believe the cost of their water is reasonable, while 23% said it’s expensive and 15% rated it a bargain. Six out of 10 voters said they would be willing to pay an annual $5 fee to protect Ohio’s water resources.

The survey asked voters to assess their level of concern over seven issues that are currently in the public discussion. Water ranked sixth, trailing health care, the economy, education, crime and roads and bridges. Only public transportation was rated lower than water as a concern.

The results of the survey likely were impacted somewhat by the August shutdown of Toledo’s drinking water system due to toxins from an algal bloom in Lake Erie, which occurred during the survey period. Most survey responses were gathered prior to the event.

The Healthy Water Ohio coalition will use the survey results as a part of its comprehensive study of water resource issues. The coalition is currently soliciting additional input from hundreds of stakeholders and conducting regional focus sessions. The group plans to issue a set of long-term strategy recommendations in the summer of 2015. More information about HwO can be found at HealthyWaterOhio.org.

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