Gov. Spencer Cox seeks heaven’s help — beyond the clouds — for drought relief, asks Utahns to pray for rain

“Prayer is powerful,” he declares while reminding residents the water restrictions loom.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Low water levels at Bullfrog resort, on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Gov. Spencer Cox is urging Utahns to pray for rain.

After issuing two emergency drought declarations and encouraging water conservation, Gov. Spencer Cox is now urging Utahns to join him in seeking divine intervention.

“I’ve already asked all Utahns to conserve water by avoiding long showers, fixing leaky faucets, and planting waterwise landscapes. But I fear those efforts alone won’t be enough to protect us,” Cox said in a recorded message released Thursday. “We need more rain, and we need it now.”

Cox is declaring a “weekend of prayer” from Friday through Sunday in hopes that the clouds will open to replenish depleted reservoirs and bring moisture to a parched landscape.

“Prayer is powerful,” Cox’s declaration states. “And I encourage all Utahns, regardless of religious affiliation, to join together on this weekend of prayer.”

He added that by “praying collaboratively and collectively, asking God or whatever higher power you believe in for more rain, we may be able to escape the deadliest aspects of the continuing drought.”

Faith leaders in the state indicated they would follow the governor’s suggestion to lift up prayers for drought relief.

The Rev. Steve Aeschbacher, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Salt Lake City, said his congregation will be praying about the drought during Sunday service, and he’ll also send out an email encouraging church members to pray for rain.

“We believe that God is ultimately in charge of all kinds of things — everything,” he said. “I think it’s great for our leaders to encourage people of all faith traditions to reach out in whatever ways they’re comfortable with to seek help.”

Similarly, Utah Episcopal Bishop Scott Hayashi will be telling all priests in charge of Episcopal congregations about Cox’s declaration and ask that each pray for “seasonal weather and rain,” said diocese spokesperson Craig Wirth.

Others responded to the governor’s request with frustration, wishing that state leaders would react to the drought with policy changes in addition to calls for prayer.

“There’s nothing wrong with prayer, but it shouldn’t blind us to what we have to do on this Earth,” said Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. “And the state leaders have been blind to what we need to do in the water sector for decades.”

Frankel said he’d like to see the state do something about Utah’s cheap water rates, so that residents would have an incentive to conserve. He also argues state leaders are too squeamish about acknowledging that climate change is drying up the West.

Cox has been blunt about the severity of the ongoing drought and has already warned that it could lead to water restrictions in certain water districts.

“Let me just state unequivocally, guys, it’s really bad. It’s as bad as it’s been,” he told reporters at a monthly news conference in May. “We need everyone in the state to understand right now that we’re heading into one of the worst droughts and potentially worst fire seasons that we’ve seen.”

Cox first declared a statewide drought emergency in March, and state leaders have extended these emergency conditions through the end of October.

With low snowpack and little precipitation in the winter and spring, the state’s reservoirs are far below capacity, and its plants and soils are dehydrated. Cox has exhorted Utahns to take special care when recreating outdoors so that they don’t inadvertently start a wildfire, which could be particularly devastating during these drought conditions.