Governor Cox explains why Utah let its emergency declaration expire even as drought intensifies

Governor Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Monthly Governor’s Press Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s most recent drought emergency declaration, which Governor Spencer Cox issued on April 21, has already ended.

It expired near the end of May because the state legislature, which must approve an extension of a declaration of emergency, allowed it to run out without a vote. It’s a decision the governor said Thursday morning he agreed with before the order expired.

But that doesn’t mean the drought is over. About 83% of the state remains in at least extreme drought, with 5.7% in exceptional drought, according to the latest US Drought Monitor report released earlier this morning. The state’s percentage in at least one extreme drought has jumped nearly 50 percentage points in the past three months.

So why did the order run out 30 days after the declaration?

Cox said the purpose of the emergency order was “to draw attention” to the fact that Utah is still in the midst of a drought after similar issues last year. He thinks the emergency ordinance served its purpose in this way.

Letting the order run out, he adds, will have no impact on available resources in the state. Thus, it ultimately made no sense to call a special legislative session on the matter, especially since that session could have been hastily off topic.

“It had the intended effect, so everyone is aware (of the drought),” he said during his monthly press conference with Utah media. “I don’t think the average person is sitting on the couch going, ‘Well, that’s expired, I guess I can turn my sprinklers on in the middle of the day, or in a torrential downpour and just let them roll. It really helped get people’s attention.”

The governor was also quick to say, “unequivocally,” that he and the legislature are on the same page regarding the drought.

Utahans conserved over a billion gallons of water last year and efforts remain in place to do the same this year. The Utah Water Resources Division has an entire webpage dedicated to tactics that reduce water use, including a weekly lawn watering guide based on the week’s conditions. These are published every Friday on the agency’s Facebook page.

Utah’s reservoirs are collectively at 63% capacity right now, according to the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Cox said he and Oregon Governor Kate Brown are leading a bipartisan effort within the Western Governors Association to push the Biden administration for more federal drought relief resources, such as the assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“They treat drought differently than other natural disasters — it’s not just this administration; the federal government, historically, has treated drought differently than hurricanes or earthquakes,” he said. “And we believe they should be treated the same.”

Preparing for Utah Fireworks Season

Despite the drought, Utah has, for the most part, avoided wildfires — or at least large fires like Arizona and New Mexico have been brought under control in recent months. There have been just over 200 wildfires in the state this year that have burned just over 1,000 acres in total, according to the Utah Wildfire Dashboard, which is managed by state and federal agencies. The vast majority are of human origin.

But given the current conditions, a large fire could break out at any time. The Bureau of Land Management issued a fire prevention order Thursday with new seasonal restrictions on fires on lands managed by the bureau in Box Elder, Cache, Juab, Millard, Morgan, Rich, Salt Lake, Summit counties , Tooele, Utah, Wasatch and Weber.

The use of steel component ammunition, steel component targets, sky lanterns or similar devices or any off-road vehicle not equipped with a “properly installed” spark arrester is prohibited in these areas. There are also widespread fire restrictions in southern parts of the state. Restrictions there include campfire bans on state and federally managed lands.

Utah is also rapidly approaching one of two summer windows when launching fireworks will be legal in the state. Fireworks can be set off between July 2-5 for the Independence Day holiday and July 22-25 for the Pioneer Day holiday, as long as they are in a location approved for launch.

With no special session to overturn the law on the horizon, Cox was asked on Thursday whether the state was seeking to pressure municipalities to take action to reduce the risk of fires caused by wildfires. fireworks.

There will be restrictions on fireworks beyond mandatory locations like state or federally managed lands. The governor said the state plans to work with the League of Cities and Towns of Utah and “all mayors” to ensure the right policies are in place to reduce fire risk.

“We’re going to have smart restrictions,” Cox said, adding that more details about this year’s fireworks will be released soon.

He points the finger at Layton, who he says is following a plan to have places residents can go to safely launch their fireworks with firefighters around. Salt Lake City, on the other hand, ditched its public fireworks display and will have a laser light show instead.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning journalist who covers general news, the outdoors, history and sports for He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a transplant from Utah via Rochester, New York.

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