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Public Opinion Analysis
Ciruli Associates

Denver Metro Area Communities
Support Water Conservation

Analysis by Floyd Ciruli, Ciruli Associates
February 3, 2006

Water conservation is a critical goal of Denver-area water agencies.  Three recent polls sponsored by Denver-area water agencies confirm water usage data showing that the recent drought inspired considerable water savings among customers.  The polls provide further insight as to why the savings was achieved and, importantly, confirm that the public is willing to increase conservation efforts.  But the polls also point out that conservation behavior is partially event-related, and as reports of the recent multi-year drought fade, conservation efforts could decay. 

Findings and Analyses

•     More than 60% of metro residents believe the area is still in a drought.

•     Two-thirds of residents attempted some water conservation during the last two years.  A fifth claim significant reductions in usage.

•     Perception of drought, a desire to not run out of water and the high cost of water are the main motivators for saving water.

•     Social responsibility or a conservation ethic is an important motivation for conserving water.

•     Residents support additional water-saving actions, including conservation education, ensuring all new development has adequate water and limits on new lawns.  Residents resist higher prices just to encourage conservation and reusing wastewater for drinking water.

•     Residents will invest in water conservation and supply programs and projects.


The three surveys reviewed in this meta-analysis of metro water conservation are:

  • Town of Castle Rock, sample of 500 voters, conducted December 2005 (approx. 35,000 residents)
  • Douglas County, sample of 700 voters, conducted July 2005 (approx. 251,000 residents)
  • Denver Water customers, sample of 801 customers, conducted April 2005 (approx. 1.2 million residents)

The Douglas County and Town of Castle Rock surveys were conducted by Ciruli Associates for Parker Water and Sanitation District and the Town of Castle Rock, respectively.  BBC Research and Consulting conducted the Denver Water customer survey for the organization.

The following report provides key comparative results and includes question wording.

Is there a drought?


Ciruli Associates • 1490 Lafayette St., Ste 208 • Denver, CO 80218 • PH (303) 399-3173 • FAX (303) 399-3147 • www.ciruli.com


Denver metro residents in all three areas, which include residents in cities, suburbs, towns and unincorporated areas, believe the drought persists, even after hearing or reading reports over the past two years of restored snowpack and rising reservoirs.

 We are Still in a Drought
Comparison of Castle Rock, Douglas County and Denver Water

 Are we in a drought…?

Question: Thinking about the drought, do you believe we are still in a drought or do you believe the drought has ended?  Castle Rock/Douglas County
My next set of questions are about drought.  Are we still in a drought?  Denver Water

Ciruli Associates, Town, N500, 2005
Ciruli Associates, County, N700, 2005
Denver Water, N801, 2005

More than 60 percent of residents continue to believe their area is in a drought.  The differences in the levels reported (78% Denver Water; 62% Castle Rock) could be a product of the question wording (Denver Water’s question did not offer a negative) and water sources for the areas (Douglas County and Castle Rock are primarily dependent on groundwater whereas Denver Water supplies surface water).  But the decline also suggests that the shadow of the drought may be becoming weaker as memory fades and wet years intervene.  Denver residents were surveyed first and Castle Rock residents were surveyed last.  The surveys were conducted about eight months apart and separated by a wet season.  The impact of wet periods is confirmed in the Denver survey when a plurality (39%) of Denver Water customers said that when “reservoirs are full” they would know the drought was over.

Did residents reduce water usage?

Metro water suppliers report water usage reductions exceeding 20 percent, and continuing since the 2002 drought.  The polls confirm a significant change in water usage.  As the figure below shows, about two-thirds of Douglas County and Castle Rock voters report some level of reduced water usage.  A fifth of residents report significant reductions. 

South Metro Residents Save Water
Castle Rock and Douglas County

Have you reduced water use…?


Question:  In the last two years would you say you have significantly reduced your water usage, somewhat reduced your water usage, slightly reduced water usage, are you using about the same amount of water or using more water?  Castle Rock/Douglas County

Ciruli Associates, Town, N500, 2005
Ciruli Associates, County, N700, 2005

Among Denver Water customers, seventy-eight percent reported they had “made changes in how much water (they) used in the past few years.”  About half (53%) of those who reported using less water said they watered their lawns less or were allowing it to go brown.  Hence, about two-fifths of Denver Water customers could have achieved significant reductions.  The next most common change in use among Denver customers was taking shorter showers and cutting back on water usage in clothes and dishwashing. 

Why are people conserving?

In general, the perception of continuing drought and supply shortages are the main reasons people cut back on water usage.  Government action related to increasing the cost of water and regulations and enforcement of limits also is significant motivation for conservation.  Finally, residents cite a conservation ethic as their motivation.

The Denver Water survey reported a third (33%) of customers said their motivation to conserve is to be socially responsible and that it was “the right thing to do.”  But the Denver survey allowed multiple answers, hence, ethical behavior was likely a motivation with other factors, such as price, regulation and a perception of shortage.  Castle Rock (15%) and Douglas County (6%) surveys that did not record multiple answers reported smaller percentages of residents claiming social responsibility as the motivation for conservation.

Also, idealism motivated a majority of Denver Water customers who said: “Denver Water customers should conserve to reduce impacts on mountain regions of the state” (73% agree) and “Denver Water customers should conserve to make more water available to other Denver area communities.”  (62% agree.)

Why Metro Residents are Conserving





Right thing to do




Perception of drought




Wanted lower bill




So area doesn’t run out




Water rules




*Denver Water allowed multiple answers

Question:What motivated you to reduce the use of water?  Castle Rock/Douglas County
What motivated you to conserve water in the past few years?  Denver Water

Ciruli Associates, Town, N500, 2005
Ciruli Associates, County, N700, 2005
Ciruli Associates, Denver, N801, 2005

About half of Castle Rock voters believe there is a strong ethic to conserve water among town residents.  They were asked if there was a “conservation ethic” among their fellow residents and 8 percent said there was indeed a “very strong” ethic.  An additional 45 percent of voters described a “strong” conservation ethic.  But, thirty-seven percent felt the conservation ethic was “not very strong” or “there was little or no” water conservation ethic.

Will residents do more to save water?

Metro residents support additional conservation actions.  Limits on lawns for new homes were tested in all three polls and won more than two-thirds support in each poll.  Requiring new suburban development to have sufficient water received overwhelming support among Castle Rock (96%) and Douglas County (97%) residents.

Castle Rock voters were asked about a package of water conservation strategies and were generally highly supportive.  For example, 78 percent support the overall goal of a 20 percent reduction in water consumption in the next few years.  And super majorities support “intensified public education” (93%), “reduced landscaping in public areas that require water” (92%), incentives to residents who reduce consumption (91%) and maintaining “strict water regulations during the summer” (91%).

There were limits in public support for water saving-actions.  In general, residents do not agree with the concept of reuse of wastewater for drinking water.  All three areas give the concept their lowest levels of support for water saving measures, although a bare majority support the concept in Douglas County.

Support More Water Conservation Actions
Do you agree with water conservation actions…?

Strongly/Somewhat Agree

 Type of Action




Limit lawns for new homes




All new developments must
have adequate water




Increase rates to conserve




Reuse for drinking water




 Questions:  Text of questions available upon request.

Ciruli Associates, Town, N500, 2005
Ciruli Associates, County, N700, 2005
Ciruli Associates, Denver, N801, 2005

Residents are very price-sensitive toward the cost of water.  Douglas County and Castle Rock residents specifically reject raising prices to encourage conservation, although price increases to secure new supplies have support.  Denver Water customers indicated in several answers that they were concerned about water prices and, specifically, a majority resent that rates increased after they had conserved water (51% agreed it was unfair).

Will residents fund new water conservation projects?

Although regional water customers and voters are resistant to price increases as a motivation for conservation, a variety of responses indicate they would fund water conservation and supply projects and programs.  Castle Rock voters say they support a new water reuse plant costing $23 million and public education campaigns costing $11 million.  They were presented with a $400 million plan for water storage, purchases and conservation and a substantial majority said they support raising rates and tap fees to pay for it.  Douglas County voters have overwhelmingly supported building the Rueter-Hess Reservoir, which helps preserve the local aquifers.  Denver Water customers were not presented specific projects, however, a majority of customers (56%) foresaw likely increases in future water rates.

Polls analyzed by Floyd Ciruli, president of Ciruli Associates. Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research, communication and public policy firm providing consulting for Colorado and national organizations since 1976. 

Ciruli Associates • 1490 Lafayette St., Ste 208 • Denver, CO 80218 • PH (303) 399-3173 • FAX (303) 399-3147 • www.ciruli.com


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