Notes on a skirmish

Posted on | March 5, 2010 | 5 Comments

Goliath wasn’t really trying, didn’t really want to win and it never really was a contest. That’s the upshot of the response from the Southern Nevada Water Authority after a proposed amendment to do with its massive haul of water awards out of central Nevada failed to pass during the special session of state legislature, which closed early Monday.

Those opposing the amendment along with the SNWA’s proposed pipeline into the heart of the state claimed a huge victory. Dozens of Vegas lobbyists turned away! A great day for justice, the small man, everything good!

The Las Vegas water authority shrugged it off, saying that it had been working for the amendment in Carson City simply to help a beleaguered state natural resources agency protect thousands of water awards threatened as a byproduct of a nuisance suit brought by the pipeline protestors.

There was, to be sure, some swift and effective lawyering for the protestors in refusing to take the bait of a legislative fix and pushing hard for their case to be left in the courts, where since October they have scored a series of resounding successes. At stake: Rights down the line as to who may legally protest if valley by valley hearings for pipeline water are re-noticed and re-opened.

Further at stake: The right to appeal awards for the water-rich Spring Valley, the prize basin in the Las Vegas pipeline plan, whose water was possibly illegally awarded in 2007 and which looks likely to be re-divvied at some point in the future.

However, far more interesting than the details of the skirmish itself was the reaction of the legislature, which has hitherto backed Las Vegas. It was called into special session to deal with a budget crisis, not water. Nevada is bust after decades of a Vegas-driven boom. The state has too many people in too few industries who pay too little taxes.

As legislators faced sacking teachers and shutting down social services, sending in lobbyists from the casino and construction industry to take the corner of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and unfettered growth in Las Vegas was about as clever tactically as offering scotch to someone waiting for a liver transplant.

Who in their right mind would have passed legislation designed to resume the boom while neck high in the rubble of such a spectacular bust?

In other words, this wasn’t so much a case of a victory of pipeline protestors over the construction-casino complex of Southern Nevada as the construction-casino complex of Southern Nevada knocking itself out.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, has a habit of characterizing those who doubt her pipeline plan as people haters, Vegas haters, city haters, ie: Northern Nevadans.

Protestors love to characterize Pat Mulroy as the pit bull of the Las Vegas casino and construction industry.

To this observer, Pat Mulroy is a brilliant, highly competent water manager who is stuck because she has run out of water to manage. She’s as honest as Scarlett O’Hara and twice as theatrical. She may well be proved wrong on the pipe — it looks like she is — but let no one forget that in two decades, she’s saved Las Vegas more than once with her conservation programs. In a perfect world, she’d be snapped up by Los Angeles, whose gutters runneth over and whose Department of Water and Power has a general managership open.

As for you genius lobbyists who inadvertently but nonetheless quite effectively made the protestors’ case for them, some advice: Unless you enjoy getting pasted, rethink the line of how the city is doomed if its developers don’t get carte blanche to keep on building regardless of climate and location. The legislature is looking for rational cures, not more crap about the miracle in the desert. Time for you to follow suit.

No one in their right mind wants to see Las Vegas fail, least of all the legislators who early this week condemned Southern Nevada Water Authority lobbyists and the State Engineer’s office to the deliciously cruel punishment of workshops.

There were no losers in the latest pipeline skirmish. It was a win for Nevada.


5 Responses to “Notes on a skirmish”

  1. Rob Mrowka
    March 5th, 2010 @ 10:21 am

    Thanks Emily, great insights as usual.
    You are right on regarding no one wanting to see Las Vegas fail, particularly those of us who live there and have large quantities of our personal wealth tied up in houses there. What we want is an end to the foolishness of growth for growth’s sake, a system that feeds upon itself until sent spirling into disaster.
    We’d rather see a sustainable, vibrant, livable Las Vegas where people come to stay for all it offers in terms of quality of life. And as part of that we want to see our desert and the species that live in it preserved. Is that asking too much?

  2. James Hawke
    March 5th, 2010 @ 11:24 am

    Very interesting website! I found by it quite by accident while searching for Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    As the former Chief of Water Planning for the State of Nevada I was very interested to read your well chosen remarks on the current state of affairs.

    James P. Hawke

  3. This is not a graph of the water level in Lake Mead : jfleck at inkstain
    March 6th, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    […] for Vegas, and therefore for Nevada’s water consumption? That’s the implication of an insightful analysis by Emily Green of the Nevada legislature’s failure in its recent special session to rewrite the […]

  4. Ron Parry
    March 11th, 2010 @ 11:49 am

    What a relief. I assume Mulroy will not give up on her insane plan to pump rural Nevada dry, but at least she’s suffered some serious setbacks. Its time for Las Vegas to wake up the reality that its sited in one of the driest places on the N. American continent. Limits exist, despite what developers say.

  5. Kali Star
    March 12th, 2010 @ 5:17 am

    Great piece. It’s astonishing that people don’t understand the water situation. Even in the West with local skirmishes in the news. This is a really great site by the way. Thank you.

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