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Originally published: 2013-08-01 17:49:01
Last modified: 2013-08-01 18:33:27

Survey: Residents moderately concerned about water supply

by Anna Oakes

Local residents reported moderate levels of concern about water supply and varying views on how water resources should be managed in a recent survey conducted by Appalachian State University researchers.

The survey, "Water Use in the Western North Carolina Mountains: What Do You Think?" was mailed to 3,000 local residents in Watauga and Ashe counties. Researchers received 714 responses.

"Water quantity issues are under-studied," survey coordinator and ASU assistant professor Kristan Cockerill told Watauga Democrat in June. "This is part of an attempt to increase our understanding of how people think about water."

Cockerill said the survey responses indicated a moderate level of concern about water quantity.

"Not a surprising result, but a key result," she noted.

When asked how important it is that households in North Carolina use less water in their homes, 50 percent of respondents said very important, 45 percent said somewhat important and 4 percent said not important.

Asked about their level of concern about the future of their household water supply, 24 percent of respondents said not at all concerned, 55 percent said somewhat concerned and 21 percent said very concerned.

Cockerill said that survey respondents reported a high level of conservation practices in their own homes. Nearly two-thirds said they use water-saving showerheads, 59 percent use low-flow toilets, 45 percent use an Energy Star dishwasher, 41 percent use low-flow faucet aerators, 30 percent use front-loading Energy Star washing machines and 9 percent employ rainwater collection systems.

Respondents gave varied responses to questions related to water attitudes.

More than three-quarters of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that household water restrictions should be voluntary rather than mandated by the government.

But 68 percent of respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that community growth should be limited to manage water scarcity, and 68 percent also agreed or strongly agreed that public money should be used to develop or acquire new water sources.

"Some of these responses may reflect attitudes about government and regulation rather than attitudes about water, per se," Cockerill said. "There are also often distinctions between action that affects someone personally vs. more abstract action, so conservation measures may be interpreted as individual/personal, while controlling growth is a policy/non-personal issue."

The survey asked respondents if they would be willing to pay a one-time increase in taxes to support various conservation measures, and 45 percent said they would be willing to pay, 37 percent were unwilling and the remainder did not know.

Cockerill is a member of the town of Boone's Water Use Committee. She said the ASU-funded survey is for research purposes only and is not being conducted for any outside parties. Economics professor Peter Groothuis and others are also involved in the research.

"Over the next two years, the data will be used to generate several academic papers," she said.