Utah’s drought was in a different place this winter when lawmakers passed a series of bills addressing water and the Great Salt Lake.
But even after this winter's record snowpack has eased much of the drought across the state, Gov. Spencer Cox says it's too early to take our eyes off the ball when it comes to conservation.
At a ceremonial bill signing Tuesday at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, Cox said 99% of the state was experiencing extreme drought at this time last year. Now, it's only 7%, he said.
“That's just a miracle, and we're grateful for it,” Cox said. “But this is not a time to relax. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. We've been handed a gift, and this is our opportunity to take that gift and conserve it and preserve it so that we are ahead of the game instead of playing from behind where we've been now for a couple of years.”
Cox promoted several water-related bills Tuesday that will create a new statewide nonprofit to address water needs, limit the power of homeowners associations to dictate landscaping requirements, and designate the brine shrimp as the state crustacean.
HB307 creates a statewide nonprofit partnership known as Utah Water Ways, which “ensures the protection and sustainable use of Utah's water resources for future generations” by balancing the needs of different water users and promoting efficient water use and conservation, according to a statement from Cox's office. Cox likened it to the Utah Clean Air partnership that educates about air quality.
Bill sponsor Rep. Calvin Musselman, R-West Haven, said the aim is to create a one-stop shop for information "so the public understands what they can do to make a difference."
For the second year in a row, the legislative session concluded with significant investment targeting water conservation, efficiency and infrastructure. We’ve had a record-breaking winter, and a lot of snow, but we still need to be water-wise and drought resilient, and these… pic.twitter.com/vl1BQEYEPl— Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox (@GovCox) April 26, 2023
Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said the majority of water used along the Wasatch Front is used for outdoor water and landscaping. He said HB450 will help homeowners save water, in part by limiting the power homeowners associations have to require that owners maintain more than 50% vegetative coverage that is not water-wise landscaping.
“There are desert plants — plants that are very drought-tolerant — that we can utilize to really enhance our landscapes and they can be beautiful,” Ferry said.
The bills also create a Great Salt Lake “czar" to coordinate efforts to protect the lake and invest $200 million for agriculture producers to switch to more efficient watering technologies.
“One of the things I appreciate most about these bills is the way that they are forward-thinking, that we're not just thinking two years or four years ahead as elected terms, but we are looking 20 or 30 years ahead and preparing for the future,” Cox said. “We've survived this drought because people made really important decisions 50 years ago, 100 years ago that have helped us to be where we are today. And we need to make sure we're prepared for the future.”