Utahns have serious concerns on air quality, low river levels, poll shows

Published: Sunday, Feb. 16 2014 1:51 p.m. MST

A new poll tapping conservation-themed attitudes of registered voters in six states reveals that Utahns — much more than their neighbors — believe air quality is a extremely or very serious concern. They also worry about low river levels.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's registered voters are drastically more worried about air quality than their neighbors in five other western states, with more than two thirds in a recent poll indicating it is an extremely or very serious problem.

That finding by the Conservation in the West Poll released Thursday stands in "stark" contrast to the perceptions detailed by the rest of the region, with only 32 percent of respondents agreeing that the problem is that significant.

The poll commissioned by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project tapped attitudes of 2,400 registered voters in six western states.

Over the years, the poll has demonstrated that Utah residents have had sustained concerns over air quality, with the majority of those surveyed consistently ranking air pollution as a very serious problem.

While temperature inversions are a routine visitor each winter season, air pollution has become a major issue of concern both from a public health standpoint and for public policy makers in Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert convened a Clean Air Action Team last fall, which has begun to deliver a list of recommendations to combat the problem, including enhancing restrictions on wood burning, accelerating a move to cleaner gasoline, and allowing regulators to embrace measures that may differ from the federal government.

In addition, a flurry of bills have been introduced in the Utah Legislature in an attempt to address the Wasatch Front's pollution problem, which has been repeatedly identified as a possible impediment to economic growth.

In Utah and elsewhere across the West, low river levels emerged as a major problem, second only to unemployment. The poll found that four in five residents in the region say the problem is serious, with half agreeing that it is an extremely or very serious problem.

Utah, like its other upper Colorado River basin neighbors such as Wyoming and Colorado, also favor using current water supplies more wisely and emphasizing conservation over any new diversions.

In Utah, only 12 percent of those polled favor diverting water from less populated areas and delivering it to where more people are concentrated.

Those results were welcomed by conservation groups and environmentalists who argue the river is already overtapped and should not be supporting any diversions.

"These poll results strongly indicate that voters in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming want to protect the headwaters of the Colorado River and reject new dams and diversions," said Gary Wockner, coordinator with the Save the Colorado River Campaign. "As we move forward in this 'new normal' era of drought and climate change, we need an additional 'new normal' in leadership that invests in protecting and restoring the Colorado River ecosystem through water conservation, efficiency and recycling."

Aside from air quality, Utah stood out in responses on public lands issues and the federal government.

Pollsters noted that Utah residents were the most likely — at 89 percent — to say that closure of public lands during the federal shutdown hurt small businesses and the economy. A third of Utah residents said the closures left them "annoyed" and another quarter were "angry."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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