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Save water, stop fires

Published August 27, 2013 12:17 pm

In Utah, it's come hell and no water
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the spring of 1997, while the reporters, photographers and editors of The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald were scurrying about, trying to cover all aspects of the flood that had engulfed their town, their office burned down. Along with much of the rest of downtown Grand Forks.

The headline in the next day's newspaper — yes, there was one — was "Come hell and high water." That was also the caption of the portfolio of work that earned The Herald the most coveted award in journalism, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

In the summer of 2013, parts of Utah are having a look at the hell of high temperatures, wildfires and drought. No high water. Hardly any water at all.

Oh, well. At least our overtaxed firefighting crews don't have to wade through floods to get to where the fires are.

But here is what does have to happen in Utah, and throughout most of the Mountain West.

It's hot, it's dry and just about anything with carbon in it — plants, alive or dead; wood, in stacks or used to build walls and roofs — is as likely as not to explode into flame if given the slightest provocation. We could have twice the number of firefighters, with all the tools and chemicals and aircraft they could dream of, and we would still be in a situation where an ounce of prevention is worth several tons of cure.

So, no campfires. No fireworks. No target shooting. No cigarette butts or supposedly spent matches tossed onto the ground or out of the car window. The home, car, life you save could be your own.

Also, be aware that water, always at a premium in the desert West, is even more scarce than usual. Using more than absolutely necessary is irresponsible and dangerous.

Late last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to make huge cutbacks in the amount of water that is to be released from Lake Powell into the downriver parts of the Colorado River.

At about the same time, the folks who run the Pine View Water Systems told their customers in and around Ogden to cut their outdoor water use in half — in half — from now through the end of next month. Those who fail to do so — they will be watching — stand to have their water cut off for the remainder of the watering season and be required to reapply for service, with a $500 fee, for next year.

Hot and dry can be a vicious circle, with those who are hot using more water and winding up, after a while, even dryer than they otherwise would have been. It is time for everyone to seriously conserve water.