Is the Water Authority’s Magic All Tapped Out?

It was, ironically, World Water Day—March 22—when the Nevada state engineer decided it was OK for the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump 84,000 acre-feet of ancient groundwater annually from arid Northern Nevada to your front lawn. World Water Day, a United Nations event that focuses attention on sustainable management of freshwater in an increasingly thirsty world, has been held every March 22 since 1992.

SNWA general manager Pat Mulroy—perhaps Nevada’s only current public official to be the subject of a children’s book (A Hero Named Pat, published in 2009 by the Public Education Foundation)—has spent the last two decades stitching together the Valley’s water utilities into a behemoth that feeds growth by feeding on growth, depending on revenue from new hookups to pay for the infrastructure that supplies those hookups. It worked great until the growth stopped and the unsustainability of such a closed-loop business plan became painfully obvious.

But we cannot fault Mulroy for shortsightedness. She’s instituted effective conservation measures over the years, and overall she’s done excellent work. We know this because, on March 15, she got her first job evaluation in 20 years, and her bosses, the Clark County Commission, gave her an A-plus on her report card. “I’d give her a triple A-plus and recommend we give her a raise,” said Commissioner Tom Collins, as reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Five days later, Mulroy was in Washington, D.C., displaying the very skills that earned her such high praise by begging the federal government for help to keep the taps running. The “third straw” in Lake Mead has proved far more costly than originally planned, she testified on Capitol Hill, and Lake Mead is drying up anyway. Climate change has cost the SNWA almost $1 billion “overnight.” Who could have foreseen that? “Pat Mulroy jokingly said she would welcome ‘anything’ from Uncle Sam, but focused on the possibility of low-interest loans similar to ones that helped build the area’s water system years ago,” the R-J story continues.

It will cost between $2 billion and $15 billion to build a pipeline from Northern Nevada to your front lawn. Mulroy has not indicated where the money will come from, but she has assured us the pipeline is the only way to guarantee our future water supply. Why should we doubt her?