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SALT LAKE CITY — Ranchers and farmers weathering the past few months of bone-dry conditions already know what Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced on Monday: The state is in severe drought conditions meriting an emergency.
Citing the conditions in all of Utah's 29 counties and low reservoir levels, Herbert issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency based on recommendations of the Utah Drought Review and Reporting Committee.
“The rainfall we have received helps, but the drought is at a level unseen for many years and will not be solved with a small series of storms. In some areas, the drought is at, or near historic levels,” Herbert said.
“Such difficult conditions are harming the quality of life and the livelihoods of many Utah families and agricultural producers. The ramifications of drought extend beyond our depleted water supply. Drought harms our industries, agriculture, recreation and wildlife, and it worsens wildfire conditions and air quality.”
Herbert's drought declaration follows disaster declarations already made in Box Elder, Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wayne counties.
Reservoir levels across the state are depleted in the face of a historically dry summer and below average snowpack.
Water watchers note that 16 of Utah's top 49 reservoirs are less than 20 percent full, and eight of Utah's top 49 reservoirs are less than 5 percent full.
"This declaration opens doors for the Utah families and industries most harmed by this drought. Hopefully, it’s also an eye-opener for the rest of us, and we’re encouraged to do our part,” said Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
“We can’t control precipitation, but we can find opportunities to decrease our water use all year long. If we all look for opportunities to conserve, we can keep a lot more water in our reservoirs, which will really help if we have another dry winter.”
Styler recommended the drought declaration to Herbert after the drought review committee was activated for the first time in 10 years, due to a requirement under state law.
While agriculture is Utah's largest consumer of water, Herbert urged individuals to do their part and be mindful of consumption, including reduction of time spent in showers, fixing leaks and only running dishwashers or washing machines when full.