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Cox issues new water restrictions during historic drought

Posted at 3:29 PM, Jun 08, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox has issued a new executive order enacting more water restrictions during the ongoing drought emergency.

At a news conference outside the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, the governor directed all state facilities to cut their outdoor watering to twice a week — three times a week in southern Utah.

"I’m also asking municipalities, businesses and property owners to follow suit," Gov. Cox said.

The governor urged Utahns to do the same, joking: "Make yellow lawns great again." He said in this historic drought, lawns would still survive by going dormant. Outdoor watering makes up 60% of all residential water use.

As a very public example of the governor's directive, FOX 13 was told the traditionally lush green lawn of the Utah State Capitol will also start to go a little brown as it moves to the twice a week watering. Experts recommend allowing the lawn to grow longer and prioritize watering trees, shrubs and perennials over grasses.

Agriculture producers — a huge water user — have also made cuts to conserve more resources, said state agriculture commissioner Craig Buttars. Farmers and ranchers are also cutting their produce, which will impact the food supply, he said.

But Gov. Cox only has so much power. Water restrictions and enforcement actually lies with local water districts. As FOX 13 reported on Monday, some have started threatening fines and secondary water shutoffs to repeat water wasters as the drought emergency only gets worse.

Gov. Cox said the good news is a dry spring means not as many dry grasses in lower elevations. There is also enough drinking water supply for the state. But three reservoirs in central Utah are projected to go dry this year, said Candice Hosenyager, the deputy director of Utah's Division of Water Resources.

She said the state is taking complaints about water wasting at a website set up by the division.

LINK: Utahns can now "fame or shame" water wasters with state's new survey

"Water shaming is Utah’s pastime," Hosenyager said. "We also love when you want to celebrate good action there."

Long-term water conservation measures are being discussed on Capitol Hill with legislative leadership, including xeriscaping more places and getting rid of "unnecessary grasses." But the drought crisis is immediate as it factors into wildfires and other problems.

On that note, Gov. Cox reiterated his support for a statewide fireworks ban — if conditions merit. Asked by FOX 13 about it, the governor said he was having ongoing discussions with legislative leadership.

"I think it is possible. I really do," he said. "Again, we’ll be having those conversations with the legislature. If things continue as they are right now, I would be supportive of a statewide fireworks ban."

Currently, fireworks use is illegal in all of Utah until just before the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day holidays. The state has banned fireworks on state and unincorporated private lands.