To be fair

Posted on | August 25, 2011 | 1 Comment

A friend of mine once summed up his bitching about an enemy by laughingly declaring, “I talked her down so bad that I made her look good.”

Today in Las Vegas City Life, investigative reporter and columnist George Knapp talks down Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager Pat Mulroy so bad that he makes her look good. For years now, Knapp has been the most consistent, the most outspoken critic of Mulroy’s plans for a 300-mile-long pipeline into Nevada’s Great Basin. Usually his reporting is good. It’s always rollicking. It is has been widely reported, for instance, including by Knapp, that a new study on the cost of the pipeline suggests that the ultimate price far exceeds earlier projections, that instead of $3bn it might cost $7.3bn, or even $15bn including financing.

This would buy a lot of conservation or water trades.

But is it by extension a fact that everything that the SNWA or Pat Mulroy does is wrong, a lie and tantamount to fleecing the public? 

Knapp suggests yes, at first playfully, then by complaining that water bills are already rising: “…water officials conveniently ignore the fact that we are already paying higher water rates. We saw increases in 2008, 2009, 2010 and again this year. And why? Because SNWA needed more money to pay for other big construction projects, including the third straw to Lake Mead, which is going to cost at least 20 percent more than what SNWA told us it would. Your water bill already reflects the extra charges (a reward for all the water you’ve been conserving, right?) What was once billed as a $700m dollar project is now being called an $837 million project, and before it’s done, who knows?”

This kind of trash talk might get Tea Party chins nodding, but it’s far, far beneath a man as brilliant as George Knapp. Conservation is not done to save consumers money. It is done to ensure consumers water. Several years ago in DC, I saw jaws drop as Mulroy demanded of collected water managers that they stop lying to their customers that conservation would lower their water bills, which she knew, everyone knew, had to rise and keep rising to keep pace with demand, infrastructure costs and upgrades demanded by climate change. Anyone who has been following the flows of the Colorado River knows that the third straw is an essential insurance policy for Las Vegas. Without it, access to the source of 90% of the region’s water will be at risk.

No, the third straw has not cost what was originally estimated. It has proved an engineering nightmare. Are there sweetheart contracts? Knapp should investigate. But when Knapp says that Mulroy and her staff have “used their muscle in the business community to pressure the elected officials who presumably should be telling them what to do,” he sounds like Sharron Angle on a particularly befuddled day. If you want elected officials telling water managers what to do, come have a look at the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, whose conservation and green energy programs have been upended after an idiot councilman from the San Fernando Valley demanded the right to water his lawn when he felt like it, and his colleagues insisted on a “rate payer advocate.” The council member wanted green grass because his realtor donors wanted green grass. Another councilman complained he wanted to be able to water his lawn all he liked when he got home because he found it relaxing. Here in LA, where politicians do tell water managers what to do, and water managers have the job expectancy of a McDonald’s employee, our pipes are bursting, our conservation programs are lame, our green energy targets are not nearly what they need to be precisely because spineless and often stupid elected officials are telling water managers how to do their jobs.

An ongoing theme among those protesting the pipeline is that water in Las Vegas is too cheap, that Southern Nevada could survive without the Great Basin pipeline if only water rates reflected the true cost. They shouldn’t need the pipeline because they have Mead. So, which is it? Is water in Vegas too cheap, or too expensive? Should Vegas ensure its access to Mead, or not?


One Response to “To be fair”

  1. George
    August 26th, 2011 @ 9:16 am

    Your observations about the reason for conservation and about elected officials telling water managers what to do rings true for San Diego too. Well said!

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