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Utahns in for 'bumpy ride' due to water shortage

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Merrilee Gasser | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Utah Governor Spencer Cox says the state’s water reservoirs are around 10 percent less capacity than they were at this time last year as an additional $500 million is being spent on water conservation.

The Legislature passed the $500 million for water conservation during the most recent legislative session, Cox noted during a live public forum hosted on social media Tuesday evening. He added a lot of those funds would go toward secondary water metering.

“I actually think we had more conservation bills passed this year than all the other years as a state combined,” the governor said.

It comes as Utah’s water reservoirs sit around 60 percent capacity, compared to the nearly 70 percent capacity during Spring 2021, according to Cox. The governor said half of the reservoirs are at 50 percent or below after the state leaned heavily on reservoir storage last year and was unable to refill the amount used.

The lack of snowfall at the beginning of the year also didn’t help matters, said Cox.

“Sadly, we had a very bad January and February, that’s what killed us. January and February just flatlined. There was no snow so that really hurt us and we’re going to be playing catch up the rest of the year,” Cox said.

The governor issued a drought state of emergency last month and called on Utahns to conserve more water. He said residents saved tens of billions of gallons last year.

The state is spending $5 million this year to incentivize property owners to replace grass with drought-resistant landscaping as a part of House Bill 121. The bill also requires water conservation at all state facilities and limits the amount of grass that can be planted at any new state government facility to a maximum of 20 percent of the total landscaping, according to Cox.

The governor also issued an executive order in May 2021 that implemented water conservation measures for all state-owned properties, which is still in effect.

State agencies have been tasked with reducing outdoor water usage by 25 percent by 2026.

“We significantly reduced our water usage last year and we’ll continue to do that this year. We had yellow spots and brown spots in the capitol lawn and here and that’s because we were reducing that,” Cox said.

A bright note for Utah is the governor said there are currently no areas in “exceptional” drought, which is the highest level of severity. Last year, a “significant” portion of the state was in exceptional drought, according to Cox. However, the governor said the state currently has areas of extreme drought across the state.

As for what Utahns can expect for the rest of 2022: “We’re in for a little of a bumpy ride,” said Cox.