Posted on | April 5, 2010 | 4 Comments
Talk about Westerns: Over the weekend, Henry Brean of the Las Vegas Review Journal, dusted down a honey of a grudge match.
It’s in Nevada, and Nevada being the driest state in the union, it’s about water.
To the south, we have Patricia Mulroy, the blonde general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, who formed her agency expressly around the idea of building a nearly 300-mile-long pipeline into the wild heart of the state to sustain otherwise impossible growth around Las Vegas.
To the north, there is the brunette. Dorothy Timian-Palmer, a former Carson City water manager, now president of the Vidler Water Company, is the face of a modern breed self-styled as “water developers.”
What, you might ask, is a “water developer”? In Timian-Palmer’s case, she goes where there is water but no civic will or money to drill, pipe and pump, and then promises to help communities tap the reserve.
In return, Vidler takes a slice of profit. It’s the gift that keeps on giving: To them.
Mulroy develops water, too, but for Las Vegas. If you’re in Las Vegas, need water and support rapid growth, you probably like her. If you’re in the path of her pipeline to serve Las Vegas, or you’d rather see the Great Basin National Park keep its water locally, you probably don’t.
Mulroy’s and Timian-Palmer’s respective offices tell their stories as well as any spiel. Mulroy’s is a sunny suite in a public utility building. Timian-Palmer trades from a faux manor in Carson City sandwiched between a golf course and some kind of retail outfit. For the lobby of Chateau Vidler, picture an unlikely dark-wood interior laden with unread coffee table books.
It would be understatement to suggest that the two women dislike one another; what passes between them feels more like hate. During a set of back-to-back interviews in 2007, it was Palmer who took the bait to dish. “At least her deputy understands hydrology,” Timian-Palmer said of Mulroy.
Back in Las Vegas, Mulroy declined to be drawn on the subject, merely flashing a glance that said, “Nice try.”
Why the animus? A 2003 article by Matt Jenkins in the High Country News does a good job setting the stage for their clash — of how after Mulroy went a-prospecting for her pipeline, Palmer went a-developing.
Then a funny thing happened. Fear of Mulroy’s pipeline and Las Vegas siphoning off its future led Lincoln County, just north of Las Vegas, to sign up with Vidler.
This would have been more serious for Mulroy if Timian-Palmer’s “development” weren’t of a parasitical stripe. In 2005, environment writer Launce Rake explained in the Las Vegas Sun how Vidler then let Las Vegas through, while positioning itself with siphons. “Lincoln County commissioners have partnered with the private Vidler Water Co. to develop a plan to sell agricultural water for urban uses. The Lincoln-Vidler partnership has forged an agreement with the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Clark County to share the county’s ground water.”
Say what? Say what twice, but keep reading. This unholy partnership turned out to be a three-way with lobbyist-developer Harvey Whittemore, who needed authority pipes and Vidler deals to serve a mini-city outside Las Vegas to be called “Coyote Springs.” There’s a book in Whittemore, which I hope Launce Rake is writing.
But back to the skirmishing between Mulroy and Timian-Palmer, which was by no means limited to Lincoln County.
In 2000, in water rich White Pine County, in the jewel of the basins targeted by Mulroy’s pipeline, Vidler snapped up a Spring Valley ranch replete with water rights for $4.5m. By 2006, Mulroy’s authority had bought it for $22m, the first of a string of ranches that it was obvious the Las Vegas authority would need to buy as its pipeline came through.
According to yesterday’s report in the Review-Journal, Timian-Palmer is now filing on more Lincoln County water, this time in Mesquite, that may come into play after a January state supreme court decision cast doubt on the validity of all the water awards for the Las Vegas pipeline.
What will the State Engineer’s office make of it? Hard to say. The State Engineer is on sick leave and his boss just retired. As Nevada faces economic collapse, a bunch of newbies get to sort out a decade’s worth of water schemes, grudge matches and desert hijinks.
What are Mulroy’s options as a familiar parasite returns? Besides participating in horror stories about Vidler in the press, there is always skywriting.