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AM News Brief: Temple Square Reopening, Drought Orders & Accounting For COVID Deaths In Indian Country

A photo of a home in Desert Color — a 3,400 acre planned development just south of St. George.
Lexi Peery / KUER
/
Utah is in the midst of its worst drought since the 1950s. Now, state and local leaders are calling on people to conserve water. Some homeowners and developers have turned to “localscapes” — like the ones at Desert Color — to do so. This story and more in the Wednesday morning news brief.

Wednesday morning, June 9, 2021

State

Drought Conditions Could Lead To July 4 Fireworks Ban

Gov. Spencer Cox issued another executive order Tuesday aimed at water conservation. It requires state facilities in northern Utah to water their lawns just twice a week. In southern Utah, it’s three times a week. Ninety percent of the state has been in an extreme drought since the start of the year. Cox urged Utahns to voluntarily follow the state facility rule for their lawns. Dry conditions also mean an increased fire risk. Cox said if nothing changes, he would likely enact a statewide fireworks ban around the 4th of July, when they’re usually allowed. — Sonja Hutson

Southern Utah

Mammoth Creek Fire Emergency In Garfield County

The Garfield County Commission has declared a state of emergency to free up funds to fight the Mammoth Creek Fire. It has burned around 700 acres and is 0% contained. County leaders also formalized evacuation orders for residents in Mammoth Creek Village, where nearly 300 homes had to be vacated over the weekend due to the blaze. The fire started Saturday because of lightning and dry and windy conditions in southwest Utah are impacting fire behavior. Earlier this week, the federal emergency management agency approved the state’s request for funds to help fight the fire. Meanwhile in a tweet, Utah Wildfire said the East Canyon fire is now estimated at over 500 acres in size. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Travel Plan Throughout The Book Cliffs

The Bureau of Land Management wants to hear from the public about a travel plan for the Book Cliffs area. The 30-day comment period began Tuesday. The BLM said comments about the use of routes through the region and the impacts existing ones have on resources are especially useful. The comments will help the agency identify where motorized transportation on public lands in eastern Utah will be allowed. The Book Cliffs travel area covers nearly 2,000 miles of routes, and comprises nearly 820,000 acres in Uintah and Grand Counties combined. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

Less Thirsty Native Plants Offer Drought Alternative

Utah is in the midst of its worst drought since the 1950s. Now, state leaders are calling on people to conserve water and some homeowners and developers have turned to “localscapes” to do so. Localscaping means designing yards to be more water efficient by using native plants and grasses. Ryan White of the Washington County Water Conservancy District said it’s not about eliminating all lawn — rather using it in a more functional way. One community that has embraced this kind of landscaping is Desert Color. It’s being built on acres of desert south of St. George and is the first planned development to be localscape certified in the state. Localscaping won’t solve Utah’s water shortages right now, but scientists say it can be part of a long-term solution for the state. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Northern Utah

Temple Square To Begin Phased Reopening

Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City will reopen to the public in phases beginning June 14. The Conference Center will be the first to open followed by other buildings in July and August. Hours will initially be limited to 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include guided and self-guided tours. Assembly Hall and The Tabernacle which will open July 6 with limited hours. Concerts and rehearsals will continue to be paused. — Pamela McCall

Region/Nation

COVID-19 Death Toll In Indian Country Unclear

Indigenous Americans have suffered the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but even those numbers could be an undercount. On the Navajo Nation many coronavirus deaths were recorded by the federal Indian Health Service. Others were recorded in tribally-owned facilities or by local, state and private agencies across the country. A team of reporters with the Indigenous Investigative Collective found that many of those agencies weren’t sharing their numbers with each other or with the Navajo Nation itself. Because there was no unified strategy for tracking Native people’s coronavirus deaths, the Collective said there will probably never be an exact toll of the pandemic on Indian Country. — Savannah Maher, Mountain West News Bureau