By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - As California struggles through its third year of drought, nearly half of state residents said they would be willing to pay higher water bills to ensure a more stable supply, a new poll showed on Friday.
The poll, released by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times, comes as lawmakers in the most populous U.S. state are fighting over ways to ease the drought's impact. Some have called for increased spending to build reservoirs and underground storage, while others have stressed conservation.
Some 46 percent told the pollsters they would be willing to pay higher water bills to shore up supply, slightly more than the 42 percent who said they would not. But Californians stopped short of being willing to spend taxpayer money: 51 percent said the state should not spend taxpayer dollars to improve storage and delivery systems, compared to 36 percent who were in favor.
The drought is expected to cost thousands of farm jobs and cause 400,000 acres of cropland to be fallowed.
Governor Jerry Brown declared an emergency in January. He requested voluntary conservation, funneled millions of dollars to farmers and municipalities and provided funds to help idled farm workers.
The state has temporarily eased protections for some endangered fish in order to allow more water to be pumped from the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, prompting concern from environmentalists who urge conservation instead.
Californians will vote in November on a measure to issue billions in bonds to shore up the state's supply, but lawmakers are debating which projects to fund.
Brown's administration is also pushing a $15 billion plan to send water through a pair of tunnels that would divert water from the Sacramento River.
Nearly all of those polled, about 89 percent, said the drought was a crisis or a major problem, but most said it had not had a major impact on their lives.
About two-thirds of those surveyed said they had cut back on watering their lawns, and 87 percent said they had changed their personal habits, including taking shorter showers and flushing the toilet more sparingly.
Asked the causes of related problems with the state's water supply, 69 percent blamed old delivery systems and not enough water storage. About 67 percent said climate change was also to blame, and 53 percent cited agricultural use of water.
The telephone survey of 1511 registered voters was conducted May 21-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein)