Governor says Great Salt Lake restoral won’t get in the way of dealing with drought in Southern Utah

ST. GEORGE — The state Legislature is considering a bill to spend $40 million to get the ball rolling on having more water pumped into the dwindling Great Salt Lake up north.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a taping of the PBS Utah “Governor’s Monthly News Conference” program, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 17, 2022 | Photo courtesy of PBS Utah, St. Goerge News

Meanwhile, Southern Utah is dealing with its own water woes between possible zoning and growth moratoriums and the decreasing water level of Lake Powell produced by the 20-year drought. 

But Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday that any operation to restore the iconic lake four hours up north won’t interfere with work to deal with the water issue in Southern Utah.

“It absolutely is possible to do both,” Cox said in response to a question from St. George News during the taping of the PBS Utah Monthly Governor’s News Conference program. “We’re talking about different watersheds and the way that that water flows and how it gets down to Southern Utah.

“But this is critical, and probably even more critical in Southern Utah where we are seeing tremendous growth. It has to be an all-of-the-above approach and it has to be an everywhere approach to not just Northern versus Southern Utah.”

A bill introduced Wednesday by Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson – HB 410 Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement – creates an oversight group to lead the restoration of the lake, which is at its lowest level since records were first kept in 1875. 

In Southern Utah, the Washington County Water Conservancy District has been working with local cities on new water ordinances that include moratoriums on new growth unless sufficient water sources are available. District and other public officials have warned that without a sufficient snowpack and replenishment of reservoirs this winter, it could be a dire summer as far as water supplies are concerned.  

After snowpack levels seemed to be peaking above average late last year, a dry start to 2022 has brought those levels back down below normal across the state with the exemption of the Beaver River valley, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Local cities, already in the process of drafting new ordinances, already have been working on conservation measures that range from St. George passing a temporary ban on new car washes to Ivins approving a new reservoir

Water marks and a separation between the darker and white-washed rocks on the shore show how the water level has gone down in Ivins Reservoir, Ivins, Utah, Dec. 15, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Such new reservoirs and other forms of water storage will be vital, Cox said.

“It’s because of wise decisions that were made many years ago before all of us were here that have allowed us to have a surplus of water,” Cox said. “As we’ve been growing as a state, now we’re to the place where we don’t have that surplus of water.

“We have to have more storage. The reason we have a surplus of water is that people were smart and they knew we had to store water.”

Cox eluded to a study published earlier in the week that said the West is the driest it has been in 1,200 years. 

“That’s part of what maybe is difficult for people to comprehend,” Cox said. “We’re struggling to understand a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic and you layer on top of that 1,200-year drought.”

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2022 Utah Legislature here.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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