26 Mar 2009

Mulroy Channeling Mulholland's Sprawl?

In response to this post, LR says:
Great column on Pat Mulroy’s dreams of becoming the next William Mulholland. (Really. She loves the comparison.) One of the things that too many mainstream news organizations have omitted is the cost – not financial, although I think the credible estimates bring the pipeline cost to somewhere in excess of $10 billion – but environmental. I have worked as a reporter and now environmental advocate for decades, more than 10 years in Las Vegas. I have failed to meet a single independent scientist that does not believe there will be massive environmental impacts from the pump-and-pipe scheme.

Mrs. Mulroy in January convinced the Water Authority board to ban residential graywater systems, probably the most promising way to increase water conservation and efficiency out there. It would also, of course, have saved massive amounts of power by making it unnecessary to pump water up from Lake Mead (or, God forbid, from the environmentally fragile Great Basin).

The extremely low cost of water is a huge problem and paradox for the Southwest. I served on the committee that set the existing rates (I was the only conservationist). I joined members of the general public and Peter Gleick, one of the world’s premier experts on water use and conservation, in arguing for an aggressively tiered pricing structure that would hit high-volume water users with much higher prices, therefore encouraging water conservation and smart water use.

While we have a tiered structure, it is very anemic and does little to really encourage water savings. It’s just too cheap to bother, especially for the very wealthy people who tend to be the highest water users. It may be interesting to note that during the discussions on water use, abuse and price, Las Vegas water officials insisted that there was no correlation between high-volume water use and income or wealth.

Also, the main concern expressed by water officials was not that there was a need to conserve water, but that people, when faced with higher prices, would indeed cut back water (and therefore agency income) excessively. In other words, there is a crisis, but it isn’t a water crisis. It is a crisis of political will, outmoded economics and greed.

Here is a file [680kb XLS] of the biggest water users in the metropolitan Las Vegas region. One will find some of the richest people in the region – indeed, the world – as well as our elected political leadership. I would additionally note that Mrs. Mulroy, the “Czarina” of the region’s water agency, and her husband use nearly 700,000 gallons annually. That is more than 10 times what my household uses.

And that, too, helps explain why the Southern Nevada Water Authority and affiliated water agencies do not like to charge high prices to high-volume water users.
I was interested to see that Pierre Omidyar (founder of eBay and philoanthropist) uses over 17,000,000 gallons of water per year. (That's 53AF/year! Is he growing alfalfa?)

On Mulholland, btw, read section 3.2.2 of my dissertation, where I point out his connivance in declaring a SoCal water shortage in 1922 (à la Chinatown) -- one year after he declared an abundance of water in the area. Mulholland's testimony was absolutely critical to the foundation of the Metropolitan Water District of SoCal, which was charged with building the Colorado River Aqueduct. The $220 million bond issue to fund the aqueduct (in 1931) was the biggest ever issued in SoCal. When built, the CRA delivered SO MUCH water to SoCal that it set off an orgy of expansion, annexation and sprawl that permanently redefined how people perceived and lived in SoCal.

Bottom Line: Beware of water managers who promise that "just a little more water" will fix our problems.


  1. Mulroy and the Southern Nevada Water Authority SNWA are in denial. A prudent person would look carefully at all alternatives before embarking on a path through the desert to tap a small limited water supply that will surely bring the wrath of even those who dislike cheat grass.

    Maybe some of your 300 daily unique readers would care to render an opinion as to whether or not the SNWA should investigate the following alternative ...

    The SNWA was asked to investigate and verify a fresh water Source that could be developed which would more than quadruple Nevada's Colorado River Compact allocation of 300,000 acre feet a year. The excess million acre feet of water could be accumulated in Lake Mead which holds 28.5 million acre feet and is presently only about 40% full. Lake Mead is predicted by Scripts to go dry in a few years.

    The SNWA is presently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to lower their intake pipes into Lake Mead because of the falling Lake level. The quagga mussel is expected to try and plug the pipe. Quagga will not affect delivery of water from the new Source.

    More was offered: Some of the water stored in Lake Mead could be released instantaneously each year to restore the Colorado River Delta valued at 2.4 billion dollars by AZ university research. The Delta was destroyed when dams on the Colorado River were built.

    Still no interest: the Source could be utilized as a back-up for Southern California in event of a devastating destructive earthquake and provide drought relief in times like these.

    How about a humanitarian gesture: It was suggested that measly 70,000 acre feet could be released each year and used for recharge to keep 1.3 million people from going without water in Mexicali when the All American Canal concrete lining is completed for San Diego.

    An international twist: The 70,000 acre feet for Mexicali could be traded to Mexico for drug and immigration enforcement. Maybe Nevada's Senator & Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be interested.

    To sweeten the curiosity pot a bit it was promised that the foregoing options were simply the tip of the creativity.

    Skepticism reached a new level: the SNWA was contacted in writing by Nevada Power which strongly recommended that investigation was warranted because Nevada Power had received disclosure and considered the Source "definitely plausible" !

    None are so deaf as those who will not listen...WaterSource waterrdw@yahoo.com

  2. ...and beware economists who say just a little market therapy will solve our ills.

    You can choose your poison: markets, which will inevitably discipline some users out of the system, or augmented supply, which has got its own tradeoffs. But Pat is not wrong when she says we need more supply...unless you are willing to ratchet up prices like is suggested here, and it may be her judgment that that solution is not wise policy or politics.

  3. @CF -- I will point you to the "widen the freeway to remove congestion" line of thinking wrt increasing supplies. Increasing supply WITHOUT increasing price does NOT fix the problem!

  4. Captain Flounder,

    I don't understand. If you agree with Mulroy and me that we need more supply, why not encourage development of a new Source that will not damage the environment or the water rights of anyone, anywhere ?

  5. WaterSource, I don't understand the question, I'll take a "new source" that harms no third parties any day of the week!


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