SALT LAKE CITY — New data released Thursday shows Utah's drought situation continues to worsen.
The Utah Division of Water Resources confirmed to FOX 13 that 99.94% of the state is now in "extreme" or "exceptional" drought. That is the worst drought category there is. Only a tiny portion of Rich County remains in "severe" drought.
"Extreme and exceptional drought conditions indicate major and widespread water shortages in reservoirs, streams and wells creating water emergencies," deputy director Candice Hasenyager wrote in a statement to FOX 13. "It also indicates that there are major crop and pasture losses throughout the state."
The data underscores just how bad the drought is. State officials have repeatedly called on Utahns to conserve water, including dramatically cutting outdoor lawn watering. Utah's agriculture producers have had to slash crops with less water coming to them. Water providers have threatened violators of existing restrictions with fines.
Two reservoirs in Utah have dried up and more are in danger of running out. The Great Salt Lake has dropped to its historic low and will drop to a new record in the coming days.
"In contrast, this time last year, just over 1% of the state was in the 'extreme' category and nowhere in 'exceptional' drought. We are experiencing exceptionally poor to (potentially) worst-on-record water supply conditions this summer. Extreme drought calls for extreme water-saving measures by all individuals, businesses, institutions and industries to help stretch the water supply," Hasenyager said.
Speaking to FOX 13 on Thursday, Governor Spencer Cox said recent flash flooding in southern Utah provided a small bit of good news. Some reservoirs had seen increases as a result of flash flood waters winding up there.
"We’re hoping those storms will push further north. We haven’t seen as much in northern Utah, we’re hoping that will happen," he said.
The governor said they were making action plans to address the ongoing drought emergency.
"We’re still working with legislators on changes, talking with the river commission on what that’s going to look like in the long term. There will be changes going into next year," Gov. Cox said.
House Speaker Brad Wilson told FOX 13 he would like to see more done to help Utah's agriculture industry, which has had to use much less water this year. Bills were being drafted to deal with water measures.
"I think you’ll see a renewed focus on conservation efforts. That’s probably our biggest area of focus this next session. One area I’m seeing is making sure we have enough capacity and water projects, make sure we have invested in as well," he said.
Speaker Wilson, R-Kaysville, whose district includes a large portion of the Great Salt Lake, said he shared concerns about the declining levels. But he said no path had been determined yet on how to protect it.
"There’s a lot of ideas out there. One thing we all agree is it’s an important part of the valley," he said. "It’s an important part of the ecosystem and we need to do everything we can to protect it for a lot of different reasons. Whether it’s quality of life, whether it’s industry and the important role it plays in the environment."