Drought, the cost of living and water shortages are top concerns of Utah residents who participated in an eight-state poll probing attitudes on conservation, public lands, energy policy, the Colorado River and more.

The 13th annual State of the Rockies Project released Wednesday by Colorado College went out in the field Jan. 5-22, surveying at least 400 registered voters each in the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming. It has a plus or minus error rate of 2.4 percentage points.

Impacted by 23 years of drought, the Colorado River scored high on the list of concerns in the West.

In Utah:

  • 83% of people say it is critical to the state’s economy.
  • 86% view it as an attraction for tourism and recreation.
  • 76% of voters say the river is at risk.
  • 78% say it is in need of urgent action.

Those concerns, according to the poll, remain even as the region has seen an uptick this winter with precipitation that will ease some dryness in the arid region.

On that theme, protecting water availability in Utah is also a high priority, especially infrastructure investment to reduce leaks and waste at 93%, 88% who support requiring local government to determine if enough water is available prior to approving new housing, and the same number who agree with financial incentives to help homeowners and businesses install water-saving landscaping.

The breadth of concern over these issues doesn’t eclipse Utah residents’ long held values on land conservation, their support for the protection of wildlife habitat, and areas like national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.

“High gas prices, increasing costs of living, and water shortage concerns are not enough to move Utahns to reconsider their consistent support for conservation policies or seek out short-sighted solutions that put land and water at risk,” said Katrina Miller-Stevens, director of the State of the Rockies Project and an associate professor at Colorado College. In fact, people in Utah want to continue our progress to protect more outdoor spaces.” 

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But as much as the people in the West love their “great outdoors,” so do other residents in the United States.

The Colorado poll shows that nearly two-thirds of Western voters say crowding at outdoor recreation sites is a problem, especially in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Utah. In fact, the level of concern is tied for the highest in Colorado and Utah, where 77% of those states’ residents said it is an issue.

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Permanent pain, however, is being spread across all eight states, and while pollsters encountered predictable stressors like inflation and the cost of gas, the survey did reveal a bit of a surprise.

“This is one that really popped when we asked people in 2016 whether it was a problem that too many people are moving into their particular state, we had fewer than half said that that was the case,” said Lori Weigel, with one of the polling firms New Bridge Strategy. “Today, we’ve got three-quarters telling us that it’s a serious problem.”

The poll revealed a 28-percentage point increase, from 47% who said it was a problem in 2016 to 75% who identified people from out of state moving to theirs as a problem in this year’s survey. The other polling firm was FM3 Research.