Color me stupid

Posted on | October 17, 2009 | 2 Comments


Infrared aerial photographs help the Southern Nevada Water Authority identify lawn during a water crisis in the Mojave Desert city. Computer treatment of the photographs pinpoints the most wasteful use of water on grass -- on front lawns -- shown here in yellow. Back lawns are shown in green, trees in red and the pools in blue. Photo: Southern Nevada Water Authority via the Las Vegas Sun

TODAY’S Las Vegas Sun has an interesting story on the forced retirement of the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s aerial landscape conservation program.

The gist of it is that Las Vegas wants to save water by aerial identification of water wasters, but the Southern Nevada Water Authority can’t afford to keep the program going.

The SNWA skint? Since when? A Friday story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the Authority had just spent $4m to pay a single rural Nevadan ranch to, among other things, withdraw suits against SNWA’s proposed pipeline into the Great Basin.

Is the SNWA broke or not broke? Who’s right? The Las Vegas Sun or the R-J?

Presumably more than a few people are confused. In Las Vegas, a joint distribution agreement between the Sun and R-J means that the Sun is delivered tucked inside the R-J. Get one, get the other.

So, let’s take the mixed messages chronologically. On Friday, the R-J reported that the Southern Nevada Water Authority was paying $4m to a single ranch in neighboring Lincoln County for the owners to withdraw challenges to the authority’s proposed pipeline plan into the Great Basin. The pipeline plan was introduced in 1989 and sold as a back-up source of water to Lake Mead. Its anticipated cost is now put at $3-$5bn. More than $80m has already been spent by SNWA buying up rural farms whose owners had at one point or another protested the project.

But that R-J report of $4m more spent on yet another rancher was Friday. This is Saturday. If the Sun report is correct, conserving Mead’s water is now too expensive. Why? As the Sun story concludes, the aerial conservation program was “funded under the Water Smart Landscape program, the outdoor water conservation program funded by new water-connection fees. But construction all but stopped with the recession and that money, well, dried up.”

So conservation is funded by sprawl, and without it, conservation dies. By contrast, the search for new water to fuel growth has a bottomless kitty. Where did the $4m come from for the ranch payment last week? Or the $78m in previous ranch payments to make way for the pipeline? Who will pay the $3-$5bn that this pipe will finally cost? Presumably bonds, taxes and hook-up fees.

Meanwhile, both the R-J and Sun stories are true. When put side by side, they simply reveal inconsistencies in the SNWA approach. Who would credit that in the course of two days the SNWA would be crying poor on its conservation programs for Lake Mead in one newspaper, and in another confirming the expense of millions, soon to be billions, for a pipeline whose very construction will be triggered by the falling elevation of Mead?

Protestants of the project have in the past accused the SNWA of wanting Lake Mead to fall so it could press ahead with its pipe to the Great Basin. The charge used to sound embittered and cynical. Today, based on SNWA actions, it sounds merely accurate.


2 Responses to “Color me stupid”

  1. EmilyGreen
    October 21st, 2009 @ 11:16 am

    This came from Rose Strickland of the Nevada Sierra Club by e-mail and is posted with permission:

    If you and your readers thought that SNWA’s rancher payoff to drop a
    lawsuit for $4M one day and the cancellation of the SNWA aerial
    photography program needed to enforce water conservation due to lack
    of funds was “inconsistent,” you will be happy to read that today’s
    news story (
    announces that SNWA is dropping $900,000 to make snow make snow in
    far northern NV. Why? “A spokesperson says the water from that snow
    could trickle down to Lincoln County.” That’s about 100 miles away.
    One wonders – what kind of business plan does this agency have??

  2. jfleck at inkstain » Water News
    October 26th, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

    […] of Vegas, Emily Green reports on a certain lack of hardball when it comes to pushing back on things like overwatered lawns in […]

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