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Utah's official state of emergency for drought is over — but not because the drought is

drought map
Posted at 4:38 PM, Jun 09, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's official state of emergency for drought is over, but it's not because the drought is.

Governor Spencer Cox in April issued the emergency order as the state entered another year in drought. Under Utah law, those orders are only good for 30 days. But to extend it is something that requires the Utah State Legislature to meet in special session, which is both time-consuming and expensive (a special session, for example, can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 to do).

In response to questions from FOX 13 News about the lapsed state of emergency order on Thursday, Gov. Cox's office confirmed they would not be seeking a new one. Instead, the focus will shift to ongoing awareness of the drought and conservation.

"One of the big benefits of the drought declaration is to raise awareness of drought conditions. Now that we all know the problem, it’s more important to focus on solutions. These include conservation, efficient use of water for agriculture, drought tolerant landscaping as well as improved water storage," said Jennifer Napier Pearce, the governor's senior advisor of communications.

Many of the mechanisms put in place by the executive order do remain in effect and it would not impact current operations. The governor's office had been in contact with the legislature about whether or not to extend a state of emergency for drought and both branches of government are in agreement about the seriousness of the drought situation.

"We are currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in Utah’s history. It is imperative to reshape how we access, use and preserve our water supplies. During the session, the Legislature provided nearly $500 million to address Utah’s water conservation efforts. However, conserving water takes effort from everyone in the state. We must work together to do all we can to reduce water use and prevent wildfires. Utahns stepped up last year, and I am confident we can do it again," Senate President J. Stuart Adams said in a statement to FOX 13 News.

The legislature has rankled at emergency orders in the past. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, then-Gov. Gary Herbert issued numerous state of emergency declarations. When the legislature refused to extend them in a clash over the powers of executive orders and the pandemic, Gov. Herbert retaliated by issuing a new one every 30 days. Last year, the legislature passed a law limiting the reach of those executive orders without legislative agreement.

On Thursday, a large portion of south-central Utah entered into the worst drought category there is — "exceptional drought." The entire state is in some form of drought category, either "severe" or "extreme" drought.