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Gov. Cox explains call for prayers during drought after criticism over inaction

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 18, 2021.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox explained his reasons behind asking for prayers during Utah's drought and pointed out on Saturday afternoon what the state has already done to prepare for dry conditions.

"As a believer, I pray that God will help us in our hour of need," Cox tweeted on Saturday. "But I also believe God expects us to do our part."

The governor asked Utahns of all faiths to join in a weekend of prayer Friday through Sunday in a video he released Thursday. The invitation received mixed responses, and some called for more action to be taken.

Ben Abbott, a BYU plant and wildlife sciences professor, responded to the video on Twitter to thank Cox for taking the drought seriously and bringing attention to the role of climate change in the drought.

University of Utah atmospheric sciences professor Jim Steenburgh tweeted that droughts are becoming more frequent in Utah. "Real strategies, not prayers, must be implemented for our state to become more resilient," he wrote.

Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zachary Frankel responded to the call for prayer with a press release, addressing the need for more action in addition to prayer. "There's nothing wrong with prayer," he said. "But there's a suite of state policies we could implement to address this drought which are being ignored."

Some of the issues Frankel referenced include Utah's cheap water rates and the amount of water used to care for lawns. "I'm praying for courage from the people we elected to represent us to take on the special interests fighting water conservation programs," he said.

Cox's Saturday tweets addressed many of the concerns raised. He pointed to previous actions taken this year like a March executive order declaring a state of emergency because of the drought and a May order restricting irrigation at state facilities to times outside 10 a.m. through 6 p.m.

In the past weeks, many cities have already implemented water restrictions, like Lehi, Ogden and Syracuse. Cox said local water districts can make water restrictions based on how much water is available.

When it comes to legislation, Cox pointed to the legislature's decision to allocate $100 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to water conservation.

Cox also said more action is coming in the future. "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," he wrote.

These future plans will address methods to improve Utah's climate, he said.

Cox, who still farms in rural Utah, said "no one is more committed to conserving water than farmers," who he said use most of Utah's water resources. "But that isn't a bad thing. Unlike lawns, farmers produce food and jobs."

According to Cox, these farmers are investing in ways to conserve water like moving away from flood irrigation and utilizing new technologies.

"With all of that, and no short-term relief in sight, I asked Utahns to join in prayer," Cox said.

He was surprised by "some of the vitriol and contempt" he said he had received in response.

"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," he wrote. "And even if you don't believe, unifying our hearts for a common cause can help us all."

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