SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Concerns over the reliability and cost of San Diego County's water supply have eased in the past three years, according to a survey released Thursday.

The poll of 816 area residents conducted for the San Diego County Water Authority found that 76 percent believe the local water supply was at least somewhat reliable, compared to 65 percent in 2009 - in the midst of a drought. Just 8 percent of respondents ranked water issues as their top concern, compared to 18 percent three years earlier. The economy and government fiscal problems both ranked higher among their chief worries.

Nearly 30 percent felt water reliability issues were worsening, compared to 48 percent who felt that way in 2009.

"Providing our region's 3.1 million residents and $186 billion economy with a safe, reliable water supply is a complex and often difficult job, and this data shows that the public's awareness of regional water issues and their support for paying for those investments are high," Water Authority Board Chairman Michael Hogan said.

Among other findings:

- 16 percent of the respondents said recycling water is the most critical diversification measure, compared to 25 percent last year, yet 71 percent believe irrigation water can be treated further to make it safe for drinking;

- 33 percent chose ocean water desalination as their main priority for diversification, up from 28 percent in 2011, and more than 80 percent said the process was important;

- 95 percent consider it their civic duty to use water efficiently, up from 92 percent last year;

- 54 percent think the cost of water is fair or reasonable, compared to 40 percent in 2011, while the share of those who believe water to be too expensive fell by 12 points; and

- 62 percent percent believe it will be necessary to increase rates to maintain reliability, up from 40 percent last year.

The poll conducted by Rea & Parker Research last month has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.