Utah Gov. Spencer Cox gave an update on the state’s drought and wildfire status on Thursday and encouraged Utahns to not use personal fireworks ahead of the Pioneer Day holiday.

During a monthly press conference in Salt Lake City, the governor told reporters that 98% of Utah is in either extreme or exceptional drought, and noted that “that number continues to climb.”

Utah reservoirs are at 58% normal water levels, and 26 of Utah’s largest 42 reservoirs are below 55% of available capacity, according to Cox, who also noted that “we are completely done with any runoff, and now we’re relying on, basically, our emergency storage across the state.”

“As a result, our key messages remain the same as they have been since we declared the statewide emergency in March,” he said.

That message includes that businesses and individuals in northern Utah should only be watering twice per week in northern Utah and three times per week in southern Utah.

“That’s what we’re doing at state facilities, and we thank those individuals and businesses who are doing the same,” the governor said.

Cox also encouraged businesses and residents to take other steps toward conserving water, including fixing leaky faucets and sprinklers, prioritizing watering trees over lawns and only watering in the early morning or evening.

When asked about watering restrictions that have been put in place by local water districts and municipalities, Cox said he is “very supportive” of them.

“They know their situation better than anyone else, and they can make those decisions based on their storage capacity and their average usage,” the governor said.

He also said he supports enforcement measures put in place by some cities, including Lehi, which put in place a $500 fine for water users who have three violations.

“Enforcement is going to be key on that,” Cox said. “And a fine is one way to get people’s attention, for sure.”

The governor emphasized that “we have seen a reduction in usage in almost every water district in the state” and thanked residents for doing their part to conserve water.

“So people really are taking this seriously,” he said. “And those types of restrictions will encourage everyone to do it, not just the ones that are paying attention.”

Cox also thanked Utahns who did not using personal fireworks on the 4th of July, noting that there were half as many wildfires over the holiday weekend as there were the previous year, a statistic that he said “shows that people are actually listening and they’re taking the measures that we need them to take.”

With just a week to go until the 24th of July, Cox again urged Utahns to not use personal fireworks.

“So we applaud and appreciate Utahns who are recreating safely, and we just have to keep this up as we go through this, again, very dangerous and dry time in our state,” he said.

Also during the press conference, the governor discussed the state’s increasing COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations, ways to improve affordable housing options and a recent controversy after Utah Black Lives Matter founder Lex Scott called the American flag a “symbol of hatred.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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