St. George • Although he remains hopeful about the long-term prospects of the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told faculty and students at Utah Tech University Thursday that the short-term focus must be on dealing with the megadrought afflicting the state.
“Our climate is changing,” Cox told the estimated 300 people who packed the university’s Kenneth N. Gardner Student Center. “There is not an expert on the planet who can tell me whether this is a 20-year drought, a 50-year drought or a 100-year drought. All I know is that we have to deal with what water we have right now. And right now our reservoir storage is very low, the Great Salt Lake is drying out, and there is not enough water in the Colorado River or in Lake Powell for what we want to do.”
During his hourlong visit, Cox fielded a handful of questions from students and UTU President Richard Williams, addressing everything from the drought and the nation’s broken politics to incivility on social media and the evils of cable news.
Of all the questions he gets asked, the governor said, the one that surfaces the most is water. He said Utahns must work together to conserve water and find and deliver new water resources for the state to continue to grow.
“If we can’t build houses, if we can’t have people live here, I will tell you right now what will happen. The only people who will end up living in St. George are billionaires from California,” he warned.
As tough as the St. George area’s water woes are, Cox’s message to locals is that they will not need to go it alone in dealing with the drought.
“This is not a St. George problem,” the governor added. “This is a Utah problem, and we are committed to working with you to solve that problem.”
Asked later about what that assistance might entail, Cox said it would largely be to support the solutions coming from Washington County, saying local officials know what’s best to address the water situation. As for when and if the Lake Powell Pipeline might become a reality, he said the state is “all in” if it has sufficient resources and receives the necessary approvals from federal and state decision-makers.
“But that’s not up to us,” he said. “We know that with the drought and where the Colorado River and Lake Powell are right now, the [pipeline] is going to be a heavier lift … So I don’t know whether it happens or not is necessarily up to me. It is probably more up to Mother Nature.”
As for the nation’s political divide, Cox called the polarization dangerous and unsustainable and attributed much of the problem to social media, lack of participation in church and service organizations and the nonstop negativity and cynicism of media, particularly cable news shows.
“Cable media is evil,” he said. “CNN, Fox News, MSNBC … They are all evil. They have psychologists that help them program stuff to keep you addicted to what [Harvard professor] Arthur Brooks calls contempt.”
Cox said the best decision he ever made was when he decided to turn off cable news shows nine years ago. “And I haven’t turned it on since. I’m nine years sober,” he said.
To bridge the political divide and promote greater civility, Cox said it is important to look for “the builders,” not the “dividers or the destroyers.”
“There are people on the far right and the far left who are builders that want to make their community a better place and are willing to work with others to try to find solutions,” he said. “I’m not interested in owning the libs. I’m interested in convincing the libs that there’s a different and better way. Many will disagree with me. But if I can at least start having a conversation and listening to them, then I have an opportunity to show them why I believe what I believe and they’re more likely to listen … I think that’s how we fix [our] politics.”
Despite the drought, recession, and other problems, Cox told students it’s important not to give in to cynicism and naysayers.
“There has never been a better time in the history of the world to live in the state of Utah,” the governor said. “And those voices that are trying to convince you that everything is falling apart around you, those are not the builders.”
Still, he added, there are some issues that need addressing. One of them is the family, which he said is in decline and is at the root of societal problems like homelessness, drug addiction and mental health. Cox says that’s why the state created the first-ever Office of Families, which is headed by Salt Lake County Councilmember Aimee Winder Newton.
Cox said the new office will encourage policies that support and help families get through tough times and will save billions of taxpayer dollars that would be otherwise spent on prison cells, and drug treatment, among other things.
Cox’s visit to UTA is part of his “Utah 360″ statewide tour to visit with and listen to Utahns in communities around the state.
Correction • This article was updated with the correct name of Utah Tech University.