Utah Gov. Spencer Cox made national headlines last week when he issued a call to Utahns to pray for rain — regardless of religious affiliation — as the state continues to choke in a dismal, record-setting time of drought.
His call was met with praise, with many Utahns sharing his faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he also faced criticism.
Some online commenters called on the governor to do more than pray to address the drought. Others went further, some criticizing Cox’s call for prayer while also supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Cox last week officially designated the month of June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
Cox addressed those comments, which he called “vitriol,” in a series of posts on Twitter posted Saturday, starting by writing that Utah — along with most of the West — “is experiencing its worst drought since 1956.”
“Our state has a long history of petitioning deity to temper the elements. While I rarely look at social media replies, I was surprised at some of the vitriol and contempt,” Cox wrote. “At a time when we ask for love and friendship to those of different sexual orientations, I would also ask the same kindness for those who believe in God and his ability to help us. And even if you don’t believe, unifying our hearts for a common cause can help us all.”
As a believer, I pray that God will help us in our hour of need. But I also believe God expects us to do our part. So whether you believe or not, please join me in finding ways to use less water. Together, we can make a difference. /end https://t.co/9gmG6rSDx1— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) June 5, 2021
Cox called for “love and kindness” for the LGBTQ+ community, and for “those who believe in God and his ability to help us.”
The comments came after Cox posted a video last week, in which he made a heartfelt call for a “collective and humble prayer for rain.”
Elected leaders encouraging faith in a nation is wonderful, but this prayer only works if you're righteous. Doing this after, for example, celebrating PRIDE month (literally! Pride! How scripturally illeterate can you get?) smacks more of manipulative theatrics than discipleship. https://t.co/Dw5sR3GluI— ⏣ ₡ (@bobdaduck) June 5, 2021
For the commenters calling for more than prayer, Cox noted, “since March we have been focusing on conservation at the government level and encouraging institutions and citizens to begin conservation measures.”
Cox and other state officials are expected to hold a news conference on Tuesday to discuss “the dire drought situation in Utah and offer specifics of how Utah residents and businesses can reduce their water usage. He’ll also detail measures the state of Utah is taking to conserve water and reduce human-caused wildfire risk on state and unincorporated private lands,” according to a news release issued by his office Monday.
The governor also pointed out on Twitter that water restrictions are “controlled by local water districts.”
“Those local districts know exactly how much water is available in the local area and when/how tight those restrictions need to be,” Cox wrote on Twitter. “Almost every district has implemented restrictions or will shortly.”
Additionally, Cox highlighted a “huge” $100 million set aside by the Utah Legislature last month during a special session for water conservation, out of $280 million for water projects.
Legislative leaders have told the Deseret News the $100 million for water conservation will likely fund secondary water metering.
My administration has already begun to formulate a bold, long-term water vision and plan for our state that will include major conservation initiatives, improving Utah lake and preserving the Great Salt Lake. Stay tuned for much more in the months to come. 5/— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) June 5, 2021
Cox also promised more from his administration on water conservation, including improving Utah Lake and saving the Great Salt Lake from drying up. “Stay tuned,” he told his Twitter followers.
Cox also addressed criticism over the amount of water farmers use throughout the desert state.
“It is true that most of Utah’s water resources are used by agriculture,” Cox, who owns an alfalfa farm in Fairview, Sanpete County, posted. “But that isn’t a bad thing. Unlike lawns, farmers produce food and jobs. And let me assure you that no one is more committed to conserving water than farmers.”
Cox wrote Utah’s farmers “have invested millions of dollars” to save water consumption. He also said “nobody is feeling this drought more than farmers.”
“Many of us have already made significant cutbacks,” he wrote on Twitter. “Some (including me) have abandoned a few fields altogether. This means another tough year after Covid decimated many in the industry.”
All that, Cox wrote, is why “I asked Utahns to join in prayer.”
Over the weekend, some areas across the Wasatch Front got sprinkled with rain. To some, the sprinkles were an answer to the collective prayer Cox called for.
But Utah — and the West — has a long way to go to escape the drought. Almost the entire state is considered to be in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.