Surrender Dorothy

Posted on | April 5, 2010 | 4 Comments

Abandoned buildings in Pioche, Lincoln County, Nevada. The county partnered with Vidler Water Co. out of the belief that this would protect its groundwater reserves from predation by Las Vegas. Instead, Vidler partnered with Las Vegas and a massive private developer. The benefit to towns like Pioche, other than sharing water revenue with Vidler, remains unclear.

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.

The result? A gift of $17.5 million from Las Vegas rate payers to Vidler’s Timian-Palmer.

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.


4 Responses to “Surrender Dorothy”

  1. David Zetland
    April 5th, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    Although I agree that there are back room deals going on, I disagree that Vidier’s methods are “bad.” They finance water infrastructure and transfers and make a profit. That’s FAR MORE sustainable than taking water with politics and financing it with tax money, promises or subsidies. In other words, both ladies are exploiting NV water, but we can CLEARLY see what Vidier is doing…

  2. Don Shanks
    April 6th, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

    Excellent story, but the photo and caption are misleading. The whole town of Pioche doesn’t look like this, but most of the new homes are being constructed in the flatter, lower parts of town, as is the case in many western mining towns. However the picture is probably a pretty good preview of what the whole town will look like when SNWA, Vidler/Lincoln and Harvey pump the last drop of water out from under us. Cadillac Desert ought to be required reading for every inhabitant of this planet. Has there ever been a groundwater withdrawal project that didn’t draw down the aquifer? The only battle appears to be which private interest will exploit and profit from the resource, not whether it will last long enough to justify the $10-billion price tag or near complete destruction of a large slice of some of the wildest and nicest part of Nevada. Maybe we ought to let geologists run the country instead of lawyers. Geologists are at least aware that several-hundred years years of wasteful practices don’t amount to proof of sustainability, although I guess they can be bought too!

  3. EmilyGreen
    April 7th, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    Thanks for the comment, which I may or may not understand. I’m not sure why it’s more sustainable for Lincoln County to pay Vidler to mine their groundwater for Las Vegas and Harvey Whittemore, then to keep on paying Vidler a slice of the action. What’s in it for Lincoln County except dust control and big bills? I also don’t see how Vidler’s operations are more transparent than SNWA’s, or therefore more clear.

  4. Jo Anne Garrett
    April 7th, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

    “Nevada has always had an extractive economy,”
    was Dorothy T-P’s response to critics of her move from county water manager to Vidler profiteer. How do we rely on the “market” for a functional distribution of water while building fabulous fortunes for a few?

Leave a Reply

  • After the lawn

  • As you were saying: Comments

  • As I was saying: Recent posts

  • Garden blogs

  • Contact

    Emily Green by e-mail at [at]
  • Categories