SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are exploring a number of water policy changes to promote conservation as the state's drought emergency worsens.
On Thursday, new data showed that 98% of Utah was in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst categories. Utah's Division of Water Resources told FOX 13 it may take years before the state can recover.
"Unfortunately, it will take much more than an average winter to pull us out of this drought. If we get an average winter, it will take much longer than that to refill our reservoirs, our ground water and to improve our conditions statewide," said Candice Hasenyager, the agency's deputy director.
Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, who has been involved in discussions about water legislation, said the drought shows things need to change.
"There’s some people quite frankly that are just oblivious, watering like there’s no tomorrow and we live in England," he told FOX 13 on Thursday. "They need to realize two things: One, we live in a desert, and two, this is unprecedented drought."
Rep. Hawkes said lawmakers are looking at policy changes to encourage water conservation.
"We’re looking at all kinds of things. I’ve been in discussions with HOA boards because we’ve heard through the grapevine that sometimes people are getting in trouble for letting their lawns go brown," he said.
Other policy ideas being discussed include removing some cities' requirements that parking strips have turf or mandating water-unfriendly landscaping. Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, has been pushing for changes to help Utah's agriculture industry conserve more water.
The Great Salt Lake, which is days away from reaching an all-time low, could see some legislation to help protect it. (Rep. Hawkes sponsored a resolution two years ago to raise awareness of its importance to Utah and the need to preserve it.)
Rep. Hawkes said the legislature is also exploring using federal COVID relief money to help incentivize Utahns to change landscaping and cut outdoor water use.
"We’re trying to see if we can use some of that money to incentivize people to put in those xeriscapes, more drought tolerant landscapes," he told FOX 13.
Hasenyager said the good news is there is more evidence people are conserving water. Lawns are going brown as people water twice a week (three times a week is recommended in southern Utah). Water conservancy districts have reported some slight declines in demand.
"I think people are heeding the word and I think we can all do more as well, right? Our reservoirs are continuing to decrease," she said.