NewsLocal News


Cox says Utah has enough water storage for this year, but next year could be trouble

Posted at 3:28 PM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 19:16:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The spring runoff is exhausted and Utahns are now dipping into water storage from already low reservoirs.

But the state has enough water to make it through the rest of this year.

"What we’re really worried about is what happens next year," Governor Spencer Cox told reporters at his monthly news conference.

The latest data shows Utah continues to get hit hard by drought and a changing climate. As of Thursday, 98% of Utah is now in the extreme or exceptional drought categories — the worst it gets.

Drought conditions
Utah drought conditions as of July 15, 2021.

On Thursday, the Utah Division of Water Resources confirmed to FOX 13 that another reservoir had gone dry. Woodruff Creek was listed at 0% full. Gunnison Reservoir went dry last week. The Piute and Upper Enterprise reservoirs are both close to being emptied.

The governor said the good news is Utahns have rallied to measures to save water. Local water districts have reported a decrease in demand as political leaders and water resource managers have called on people to cut outdoor water use to twice a week in northern Utah and three times a week in southern Utah, letting lawns go brown.

"We do have enough storage capacity in the state to get through this year. If we have another year like this one? That’s where things get especially dicey," Gov. Cox said.

FOX 13 previously reported that Utah's Department of Natural Resources was preparing for a worst-case scenario of water shortages, where outdoor use could be shut off completely in places to preserve drinking and sanitization water supplies.

The governor said they were exploring long-term solutions, including policies on Utah's Capitol Hill to cut water use. They include incentives for Utahns to ditch a turf lawn for xeriscaping; rule changes for HOAs to no longer require green lawns; prohibiting water-hogging grasses in new developments; and incentives for agriculture producers to pivot to more water-wise methods of crop management.

Lawmakers are also exploring ways to protect the Great Salt Lake, a critical part of Utah's ecosystem. The massive lake is now about three inches from hitting a historic low, according to Utah's Division of Water Resources. That could come in the next week.

The reason it's alarming environmentalists and policy makers is the Great Salt Lake helps control the weather around northern Utah. "Lake effect" generates more snow for the mountains and moderates air quality problems. The area also serves as a stopover for migratory birds.

Scientists have warned that the Wasatch Front faces increased pollution and air quality problems as a result of a dry lake bed.

"It’s really impossible to overstate how serious the situation is," said Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville.

He successfully passed a resolution in 2019 to call for increased protection of the Great Salt Lake. Rep. Hawkes told FOX 13 he is working on legislation that could keep water going into the lake. Right now, a legal definition declares that any water going into the salty lake is considered "wasted."

"The good news is the conversation today is so much better than the conversation was five or 10 years ago, when really any water that made it to the lake was considered wasted," he said.

Gov. Cox on Thursday signaled his support.

"We desperately want to avoid 20 or 30 years from now some sort of ecological disaster and that’s why we’re taking proactive steps now," he said.

The governor also warned that Utah was headed into a critical time for wildfires. July through September is the worst period for fires.

But Gov. Cox thanked Utahns for skipping personal fireworks on the Fourth of July. The number of human-caused wildfires dropped significantly, he said. He urged Utahns to skip fireworks again for the Pioneer Day holiday.