If you’re the religious type, you know what that means. It’s time to pray. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has declared this a “Weekend of Prayer.” In the official declaration, Cox stated that “I invite all Utahns to join me in praying for rain to relieve our state from this drought. ... prayer is powerful and I encourage all Utahn regardless of religious affiliation to join together on this weekend of prayer.” He reiterated it on Twitter, telling his followers to “Please join us” while sharing a video from his official account of him calling for water conservation measures as well as “some divine intervention.”
While California has received the lion’s share of attention as the poster child for drought in the West this year, Utah is actually the state suffering the most. The entire state is in drought, with an eye-popping 62% in the worst type classified by the federal government. The entire state is projected to be more at risk of wildfires than usual this summer.
“Let me just state unequivocally, guys, it’s really bad,” Cox said in a press conference last month. “It’s really bad. It’s as bad as it’s been. We need everyone in the state to understand right now that we’re heading into one of the worst droughts and potentially one of the worst fire seasons that we’ve seen. And we’ve seen some bad ones.”
At that press conference, Cox, who owns an alfalfa farm and knows from direct experience, said that “most of us water way too much.” Indeed.
Now, look. I am not a man of faith. I’m also not one to judge those who wish to exercise their faith. If Cox and other Utahns want to join him in prayer this weekend, they should do so by all means. With the state—and the entire West—square in the dry season and already in the midst of a water deficit, it can use all the help it can get. Unfortunately, the prospects of relief, divine or otherwise, aren’t looking so good. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast for the summer calls for increased odds of hotter-than-normal weather and even drier-than-normal conditions across the West.
While the drought may seem like an act of God to some, the causes are at least in part manmade. Climate change has contributed to drying out the West. Rising temperatures both causing snowpack to melt out earlier and then sucking what remaining moisture there is out of the ground. Cox noted both those issues in his declaration for prayer, though not the climate links. To his credit, though, he has pointed to climate change as one of the biggest threats facing the state and called for actions to address emissions, including expanding electric vehicle charging. It’s a rarity for a Republican governor, though he has also argued the more coal Utah exports abroad, “the healthier the environment will be across the globe,” so let’s call his climate policies a work in progress.
A pile of research indicates that the risk of a multidecadal “megadrought” hitting the region is rising, and will continue to do so if the world keeps burning coal, oil, and gas from Utah or anywhere else. So while I wish Cox and the rest of Utah well in their prayers, the reality is that there’s a lot he and other mere mortal policymakers can do to ensure we start reducing that risk and build a more resilient water system.