ST. GEORGE — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox reached out to businesses and residents on Tuesday with a renewed plea for them to reduce water use amid one of the worst periods of drought the state has experienced in decades.
During a press conference held Tuesday afternoon in Salt Lake City, the Republican governor said he is issuing an executive order to all state-run agencies to only water outdoors twice a week in northern Utah and three times a week in Southern Utah. He also urged municipalities, businesses and property owners to do the same.
“We absolutely need everyone in this state, regardless of where you live or what you do, to conserve water,” Cox said, adding around 90% of Utah is in an extreme drought category.
Around 60% of the state’s residential water use goes to outdoor watering, Cox said, and in extreme drought year like this one, it was time to “make yellow lawns great again.”
While the state is issuing water restrictions on its end, most of the implementation and enforcement of watering restrictions are being done at the local level, the governor said, adding that he’s in favor of the enforcement side being applied more due to the extreme drought conditions this year.
“We have to have enforcement and all of that enforcement is done at the local level,” he said.
In Washington County, the Washington County Water District has urged the county’s municipalities to adopt time-of-day watering restrictions. This restricts outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
While the municipalities often adopt the watering restrictions as summer hits, city officials have often taken a position of education over enforcement in the past, and have been reluctant to engage in punitive measures like citations and fines.
Enforcement is needed “so people know we’re serious,” Cox said.
In a small piece of good news, the governor said, Utahns won’t need to worry about running out of drinking water this year due to water storage in Utah’s reservoirs. Despite this, people still need to conserve water because no one knows if enough rain will come or if there will be enough snow pack later this year to refill those reservoirs.
A statewide ban on fireworks was also enacted Tuesday by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. The ban effects state and privately-owned land in unincorporated areas. Like the calls to conserve water, the firework ban is a result of the drought, which has left the state extremely dry and prone to wildfires.
Fireworks are already illegal on federal public lands.
While municipalities across the state may enact their own bans or limit where people can use fireworks for the upcoming Independence Day holiday, it’s a bad year for fireworks all around, Cox said, adding he’s in favor of an overall ban on fireworks use if conditions continue to worsen.
“If these conditions continue, a statewide fireworks ban is possible,” he said.
Cox also renewed his calls for residents of faith to pray for rain. He released a statement last week calling on Utah residents to pray for “divine intervention” to combat the drought.
The governor has issued two drought-related emergency orders in the last three months. He declared a state of emergency on March 17 due to the ongoing drought and issued another executive order on May 3 requiring water conservation practices at state facilities.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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