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Health, Science & Environment

Utah Department Of Natural Resources Head Asks Legislators To Extend Drought Emergency Declaration

A photo of dry, cracked ground.
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iStockphoto
Nearly 90% of Utah is in extreme or exceptional drought, and the rest of the state is categorized as severe.

Utah leaders declared a state of emergency earlier this year because of drought conditions. Now, the head of the Department of Natural Resources is asking for it to be extended.

DNR Executive Director Brian Steed said drought should be a “top priority” for the state, which includes continuing the emergency declaration. It was already extended once during the Legislature’s special session in May, however it is set to expire Oct. 31.

“It behooves all of us to keep our foot on the accelerator to the extent we can to get people to change behaviors, and to be aware that we — despite having a great rainfall in the summer — are not near where we need to be in terms of the water,” he said at the Legislature’s Natural Resources interim committee meeting Wednesday.

At the beginning of the year, soil moisture levels hit historic lows, which are now up because of heavy monsoons that hit southern Utah this season. Steed said this winter will be critical though for refilling reservoirs from snow and runoff.

“We've seen a very rare condition where we've gone from extreme drought to flooding and still persistent drought,” he said.

Steed said the state hasn’t taken many emergency actions under the declaration besides spreading information about drought conditions. Though last week, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food announced farmers negatively impacted by the drought could apply for loans up to $100,000. Steed said absent an emergency declaration, he doesn’t think the funds would be available for that.

Some committee members in attendance agreed with Steed on extending the declaration, but Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, said he’s against it.

“One of the concerns that I have is living constantly in a perpetual state of emergency and really making sure that we tailor our laws in such a way that allow the executive to act when they need to act,” Teuscher said. “But not to extend these powers out time and time again.”

Currently, 88% of Utah is in extreme or exceptional drought.

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