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Utah's drought is 'really bad' Cox warns, may lead to restrictions and fireworks ban

Posted at 4:37 PM, May 20, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox is warning Utahns about extreme drought conditions that are leading to water restrictions, fire restrictions and a possible ban on fireworks this year.

"It’s really bad," the governor said. "It’s as bad as it’s been. We need everyone in the state to understand now that we are heading into one of the worst drought, and potentially one of the worst fire seasons that we’ve seen. And we’ve seen some bad ones."

RELATED: Increased visitors, drought creating problems for Utah's famous Spiral Jetty

Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands told FOX 13 on Thursday it had documented 227 wildfires of varying sizes across the state so far this year, torching more than 8,000 acres. That number is alarming for mid-May.

"We just want people to be careful. Check your chains, make sure you put out your campfires," said Jason Curry, a spokesman for the division. "When you’re target shooting, make sure you’re shooting in a safe area without rocks, dry grass or exploding targets or any area that’s going to be a problem."

On Wednesday, the Utah State Legislature extended the governor's state of emergency for drought. Currently, a huge portion of the state is in either extreme or exceptional drought conditions. With those designations comes water and fire restrictions.

"It’s going to be different in every part of the state. There are parts of the state that have mandatory restrictions," Gov. Cox said at his monthly news conference on PBS.

Utah drought situation
A map showing Utah's current drought situation.

As Utah's population grows and water becomes an increasingly critical resource, Gov. Cox said the state is already looking at spending money on conservation measures, as well as searching for new water resources. But he also warned of restrictive measures coming with that growth to preserve water.

"I can envision a time soon where new developments we would be eliminating park strips and looking at xeriscaping," he said.

Utah's farms, which are big water users, are also facing water restrictions this year. Fire restrictions are expected to hit in the next week or so. Those will include only allowing campfires in designated areas.

Curry told FOX 13 an all-out ban on fireworks is possible.

"I would say it’s very possible," he said. "I don't think that’s off the table. We’re going to talk about it. People love their fireworks. We’ll see what the conditions are like come July 4th."

Each local government has the legal authority to enact its own fireworks restrictions, and the state and federal governments have the authority over their respective lands. Salt Lake County emergency managers were already working on designating areas where they would ban fireworks.

"We are always in constant communication with our State level partners, again with an eye towards how we can better coordinate and support them," said Salt Lake County Emergency Manager Clint Mecham in a statement to FOX 13.

Gov. Cox also would not rule out fireworks restrictions.

"We’ll look at those as we get closer. We’ll work closely with the legislature before we implement any of those. It really depends on the rain situation as we get close to fireworks season," he said.