Pipeline? What pipeline?

Posted on | August 21, 2009 | 4 Comments

IF August 20th in Las Vegas proved anything, it’s what can happen when a publicity stunt backfires.

What had been hyped by a local newspaper and Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, as an “up-or-down” vote on the Las Vegas pipeline project soon gave way to embarrassed disclaimers from members of the SNWA board.  They were ”not voting upon starting to build a pipeline” assured director after director but rather “voting upon continuing a process to pursue environmental permits.”

The meeting room was packed with Nevadans there to beg the SNWA board for mercy or sing the praises of White Pine County, the place of springs and seeps that SNWA’s proposed 300-mile pipeline would tap most heavily (photos above). After 20 years of pursuing the pipeline project, SNWA general manager Pat Mulroy has the stomach to face down pudgy-cheeked, cap-in-hand octogenarian ranchers whose family farms her pipeline will surely dewater. But yesterday in Las Vegas, her relatively new board did not. Mulroy won her “up-or-down vote” to keep on doing her job for another day, but the 40 speakers from the estimated 300 protestors present won hearts and minds.

Mulroy, who along with her deputy Kay Brothers took the floor first, gave a 45-minute presentation of her Water Resource Plan. The gist: the drought on Colorado compels Las Vegas to build this pipeline. It has to be shovel-ready when Colorado River shortages kick in.

Then for nigh on three hours, members of the audience took to the microphone, some for the pipeline, most against it. These are quotes from some of the 40 people given three minutes each at the mike.

“Albuquerque is down to 80 gallons per day. Las Vegas is at 250. Take that 250 gallons and make it 80 and avoid pipelines and dams.” – Snake Valley hotelier Terry Morasco

“I wish I could show you Antelope springs. It is a pond, it is dry now.” — Gary Perea, County Commissioner, White Pine County, home to three of five valleys currently targeted by Las Vegas

“I’m afraid [for] the 23,000 working men and women of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council and our families.” — Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross from Ward 6, the fastest growing sector of Las Vegas

“As I understand it, you don’t need a political showing for your staff to continue with their environment permitting … I’m just asking for no vote today, no political showing on something that is unnecessary.” — Scot Rutledge, Executive Director, Nevada Conservation League

“You guys are used to looking at Lake Mead. The [Great Basin] aquifer is a very different animal from that. It’s very risky.” — Robin Bell, resident of Ely, Nevada in White Pine County, the target for the majority of Las Vegas’s pumps

“The fact is you don’t turn a spigot and the water comes out unless you do all the long terms plans.. we think it’s critical and crucial that this be approved now. We’ve seen millions of people move to the valley and we’ve consumed billions of gallons less.” — Tom Warden, Howard Hughes Corporation General Growth Properties division

“It strikes me as frankly amazing that this board would feel comfortable with the question of approving a massive project like this without any reliable cost figures.” —  Clark County Assemblyman Joseph Hogan

“…29 miles of streams, five kinds of trout, 5,000 year-old bristlecone pines and 40 cave systems …I manage them for you. They’re a national treasure. ” Andy Ferguson on the features of the Great Basin National Park, whose adjoining valleys will be the sites of the heaviest pumping

“My family has lived in this state for six generations. One thing we are standing on [in Las Vegas] is an oasis of hidden water. It’s available through water conservation.” Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada pointing out how retrofitting of toilets, taps and indoor appliances could find the water that Las Vegas needs within the city, not in rural Nevada. “Brisbane, Australia is down to 38 gallons per capita per day,” he said. Las Vegas is at 250.

“As a board, you have a responsibility that you should stop wasting time and money on a pipeline that will not produce the water.” — Snake Valley Rancher Dean Baker

“There is no surplus water in Snake Valley and when you start pumping the water table is going to go down. I have for 36 years worked with that water. I know what it will do, I will know what it won’t do.” — Snake Valley rancher Cecil Garland

“I don’t understand why you want a 10-year delay on Snake Valley when supposedly there’s an emergency.” — Susan Lynn of the Great Basin Water Network founded to oppose the pipeline

“I don’t want to live in a dust bowl and I’m frightened.” — Margaret Pense, Snake Valley resident

“Myth: we will only develop the pipeline when it’s absolutely necessary. … If you’re Harvey Whittemore in Coyote Springs, ‘absolutely necessary’ is yesterday.” — Launce Rake, former environment reporter of the Las Vegas Sun, now spokesman for Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, on the politically connected Lincoln County land developer Harvey Whittemore whose plans for a vast desert city  north of Las Vegas depends on the pipeline project being built

“Why are we still watering the lawns?… why do we still act as if there is no emergency unless it is about voting for this pipeline? It makes no sense to me.” — Henderson resident Steve Rypka

“The groundwater decline [caused by the pipeline] is likely to amount to 20 to 30 the times the decline that has occurred in the last 12,000 years.” — James Deacon, biologist and Professor Emeritus, University of Nevada Las Vegas

“It’s my understanding that today’s vote is not to build the pipeline. I don’t know if there’s a misunderstanding or if people are just emotional … It’s incumbent upon us and staff to pursue everything. One thing is important. There is a neighbor sitting here. I am very concerned about the jobs situation. This project would create thousands of jobs at a time when we desperately need them…  Clark County is the economic engine that drives the State of Nevada. … It’s important that there’s reciprocity when Clark County’s in need as well …  I’m particularly impressed by the respectfulness that has been shown.”  — SNWA director and Clark County commissioner Steve Sisolak

“We’re not voting on whether or not to build this pipeline today. We’re voting on whether or not to continue the environmental impact studies. I do not believe we know everything we need to know … What we’re talking about here is a really important, central feature of what the rest of our lives are going to be.” — Boulder City councilman and SNWA director Duncan McCoy

“If we vote in favor of this, our political futures are toast. We have political targets on our backs.” — Boulder City councilman and SNWA director Duncan McCoy

“How polite you’ve been … Today’s vote is not on final approval to begin the pipeline. Rather it’s a vote to continue to pursue permits and environmental studies in order to be able to proceed … I hope the pipeline is never needed.” — SNWA director and Las Vegas City councilwoman Lois Tarkanian

“There are some things that I’d like to see us pursue further. Are those 80 gallons from people a reality? Does our public really know what they use? … We’ve done a good job [at conservation], I think we can do better.” — SNWA director Susan Brager

“The importance of water is not lost on us.” — SNWA vice-chair and City of Henderson councilman Steven Kirk

“We have been to Ely and to Baker [in White Pine County, target of the pipeline] and we will come again and it’s a beautiful place and it’s a beautiful part of Nevada and thank you for being willing to visit with us.” — Shari Buck, chairperson, SNWA board and mayor of North Las Vegas

  • 8/22: UPDATE: for a visit to the Snake Valley Ranch of Cecil Garland by Salt Lake Tribune columnist Peg McEntee, click here.

Click here for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, proponent of the pipeline plan

Click here for the Great Basin Water Network, the group formed to oppose it

This post has been updated.


4 Responses to “Pipeline? What pipeline?”

  1. David Zetland
    August 21st, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    I’d watch for a “stealth approval” of the project. Looks like they had all their PR instincts honed…

  2. admin
    August 21st, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

    You know something, you’re right. Again. And so it is with some hesitancy that I take on someone far smarter than me, but every single cell of my reporter DNA told me as I was watching the vote that something had gone terribly south for Pat’s showdown. I have never done this before, but as I was watching the feed of the board meeting, I started blogging — something to the effect that Vegas blinks. Pat pulled her punches and so did the board and not necessarily out of stealth. Watching the meeting, I was struck by the need of the board to point out that the emphasis of their vote had been over-stated and misrepresented. They left out by whom. The RJ reporter caught up in it, Henry Brean, is the single most reliable source on this story. He did not make up the showdown. Mulroy had confidence problems and the showdown was a damp squib. Yet there were hundreds of the most eloquent, convincing, couth adversaries of the pipeline there arguing for Vegas to get its water, but to get it from conservation and, eventually, better water management. I don’t think the board faked its respect for that group. I think the vote of record missed the real bottom line for Pat, which is that the pipeline is a solution of the past and this group is looking forward. That was as it seemed to me. Jim Deacon, the UNLV biologist, was also struck by the forward-thinking tenor of the remarks. It was the strangest thing. Truth burst out.

  3. Bob Fulkerson
    August 21st, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

    Thank you for these insightful observations, which we desperately need to inform our work.
    I think a “stealth approval” is a frightening but emerging scenario, almost like approval by inertia. Witness the stipulated agreements forced upon the federal agencies, approvals by the state engineer (albeit so far for less than half the water SNWA wants), and yesterday’s vote to proceed with environmental studies.
    There are still major decisions coming related to financing the project (we need to demand their plan and budget), not to mention court decisions on our lawsuits. These will provide us with further opportunities to rally our troops and to cast doubt on the viability of this project.
    One last thought on yesterday’s hearing: I want to thank Ms. Mulroy for providing the forum. We knew we’d lose the vote going in. What we never counted on was the stratospheric level of inspiration, tenacity, and intelligence that emerged during the hearing among our extremely broad coalition of pipeline opponents. And, an alternative vision for Las Vegas as a green community with a sustainable water policy emerged. We are now stronger than ever before.

  4. Janine Blaeloch
    August 22nd, 2009 @ 9:22 am

    Nice job, Emily.

    I loathe this pipeline for so many reasons, but the remark here that made me almost spew hot coffee all over myself was the one about jobs. You have to leap over a bunch of really excruciating realities about what this pipeline represents and would do, in order to arrive at the simple conclusion that a good reason to build it is the jobs it would create. I successfully swallowed my coffee, but now I’m just speechless.

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