After a record dry summer and fall — and with winter snowpack currently at 70% of normal levels — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed an emergency order Wednesday declaring a state of emergency due to drought conditions.
The move comes after a recommendation from the state’s Drought Review and Reporting Committee and opens the door for drought-affected communities and agricultural producers to potentially access state or federal emergency funds and resources, according to a news release.
Cox said Wednesday that state leaders have been “monitoring drought conditions carefully and had hoped to see significant improvement from winter storms.”
“Unfortunately, we have not received enough snow to offset the dry conditions,” he said in a prepared statement.
For Utah’s snowpack to reach average levels, the state’s mountains would need to receive the remaining 30% of snow before it begins to significantly melt, something that typically starts to happen in the first week of April. The state has concluded there’s just a 10% chance that will happen, according to the news release.
In light of those statistics, Cox asked that Utahns “evaluate their water use and find ways to save not only because of current drought conditions but also because we live in one of the driest states in the nation.”
Utah is the second driest state but per-capita water use by its residents is among the nation’s highest.
Cox asked that Utah residents consider implementing the following water-saving tips:
Run full loads (dishwashers and washing machines)
Turn off water while brushing teeth, shaving, soaping up, doing dishes or rinsing vegetables
Reduce showers by at least one minute
Wait to water
Plan now for the irrigation season and consider implementing water-wise landscaping or purchasing a smart irrigation controller
Convert unnecessary turf areas to waterwise landscapes
Water supply and irrigation companies are recommended under the order to delay the start of irrigation season or end irrigation early and to encourage efficient landscape watering. Cities and counties are asked to consider developing and implementing water restriction plans for the upcoming season.
Under current conditions, 100% of the state is currently in the moderate drought category, 90% is experiencing extreme drought, and soil moisture is at the lowest levels since monitoring began in 2006, according to the state.
That low soil moisture is expected to adversely affect spring runoff, as all forecasts are below 72% of the state seasonal average — thereby contributing to an increased threat of wildfire.
The drought conditions have also “adversely and significantly impacted agribusiness and livestock production, as well as wildlife and natural habitats,” according to the executive order.
Utah was last under a drought declaration in 2018, when Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order as 99% of the state was in a moderate drought and over 76% was experiencing at least severe drought conditions. The emergency declaration for that drought lasted nearly a year.