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A new state of emergency for drought is likely, Utah's governor warns

Posted at 5:42 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 20:09:30-04

JORDANELLE RESERVOIR, Utah — A new state of emergency for drought is likely this year, Governor Spencer Cox warned.

At a ceremonial bill signing event for water conservation bills on Monday, the governor signaled that an emergency declaration was likely. He noted that almost all of Utah is in severe drought already.

"We’ll be talking to legislative leadership this week again, looking at the numbers. It’s likely we will be declaring a new state of emergency at some point over the next few weeks," Gov. Cox told FOX 13 News.

As of Monday, 99% of Utah was listed in severe drought. On top of that, about 38% of the state was in "extreme" drought. The state's water conditions have improved a little over last year, when the governor declared a state of emergency due to drought.

"We’re seeing year over year of bad water conditions," Utah Department of Natural Resources executive director Brian Steed told FOX 13 News. "Those bad water conditions really haven’t replenished the storage that we need and as a result we’re really worried about what this year’s going to hold."

Some local water districts have already enacted strict measures. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which oversees five counties in northern Utah, said it would be asking residents to cut indoor water use by 10% this year, in addition to restrictions already imposed on outdoor water use. Agriculture users, the largest consumer of water, will also face cuts again this year.

Residents cut water use last year, saving millions of gallons and keeping things from getting even worse, Gov. Cox said. Meanwhile, the Utah State Legislature enacted a series of water conservation laws.

Lawmakers appropriated $40 million to help preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake, which has shrunk 11-feet since it was first measured as a result of diversion, development, drought and climate change. Laws passed are designed to try to get more water into it, including special agreements between environmental groups and agriculture and industrial users to "lease" water rights for the lake itself.

"They’re a step in the right direction," said Marcelle Shoop, the head of Audubon Society's saline lakes program. "We’ve got a lot of work ahead and I mean we, all of Utah, has a lot work ahead to change the trajectory of Great Salt Lake."

Lawmakers this year also approved offering financial incentives to get Utahns to ditch unnecessary turf in favor of more desert-friendly landscaping. There were bills to require water conservation in future development planning and a dramatic expansion of secondary water metering, which tracks outdoor water use.

"Communities who have metered their secondary watering system have found 25 to 40% water savings," said Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem.