Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Recently retired water czar Pat Mulroy is bringing her expertise and reputation as an international leader on water issues to a pair of institutions with a connection to UNLV, the Sun has learned.
Mulroy will take on dual roles with Brookings Mountain West and the Desert Research Institute. Her hiring, which is expected to be announced today, provides a major dose of credibility as the two organizations look to boost their profiles on water resource policy and research. Mulroy also will be named a senior fellow at Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, in Washington, D.C. She’ll be based in Las Vegas but will travel extensively.
In her new roles, she’ll be responsible for directing research, publishing reports and helping shape policy decisions on the regional, national and international levels.
“There is no greater voice in the area of water resource policy in America,” UNLV acting President Don Snyder said. “It’s a wonderful example of using a resource like Pat for the greater good.”
Mulroy stepped down in February after 25 years leading the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, an agency she helped form in 1991. During that time, she catapulted from a bureaucrat with little experience dealing with water issues to a widely respected water policy expert who helped shape modern-day Las Vegas.
She led the agency through the boom years — a stretch of unprecedented multibillion-dollar growth in the valley — and her work with politicians and water authorities in other Colorado River states elevated Nevada’s status and helped catalyze several landmark water-sharing agreements among them. Mulroy became increasingly active in national and international water policy over the course of her career, spending much of her later years traveling around the globe to meet with foreign leaders and speak at conferences.
Mulroy said her new role at Desert Research Institute and Brookings would allow her to take the lessons learned from her time at the water authority and apply them to a bigger stage.
She’ll be a senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy with Brookings Mountain West. At the DRI, the environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education, she will be the program lead for water resources and technology as the Maki Distinguished Faculty Associate.
“The challenges that the Western United States are facing are being faced around the world,” she said.
Continuing growth in global population and a shifting climate will increasingly stress water supplies and infrastructure unless solutions are found, a challenge Mulroy says she’s excited to take on.
“How do you find strategies, how do you find management tools that will allow cities to survive and thrive in this environment?” she said.
Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West, said the shrinking Colorado River is one of the most critical issues facing the Western U.S., as it threatens the water supply to Las Vegas and dozens of other cities.
Without a stable supply of water, large portions of the country’s economy, including much of its agricultural sector, would be threatened, with future growth in the region crippled.
Brookings Mountain West began fundraising to hire a water expert before it knew Mulroy was available as part of a plan to direct more resources to studying water issues. When Mulroy announced she was retiring, she immediately became a perfect fit for the job, Lang said.
“She seemed like the most qualified person in the country to hire,” he said.
While federal officials are quick to offer aid and support for problems caused by hurricanes or flooding, there’s less available to states afflicted with a lack of water, a situation Lang said Mulroy will work to address.
“We’re going to put it on the national agenda,” Lang said. “The idea that too little water is as critical an issue to the country as too much water needs to be specifically asserted from this region, and Pat is the ideal candidate to make that assertion.”
Mulroy will also be involved in researching and developing water conservation and management technologies with Desert Research Institute, a growing industry university leaders think would fit well into the Southern Nevada economy.
“I think we have a real opportunity to build a niche with the expertise we have,” DRI President Stephen Wells said. “I can’t think of anybody better (than Mulroy) to help us do a better job at building relationships with water industries and water purveyors across the country and around the world.”
Mulroy is one of UNLV’s highest-profile hirings in years. Her addition fits in with the school’s broader goal of influencing issues of regional importance in its pursuit of Tier-1 research university status, Snyder said.
It also marks Mulroy’s return to the school where she spent her senior year of college as an exchange student studying German literature.
“I like it when things go full circle. She’s built this incredible career and reputation. ... It started with her education here at the university,” Snyder said.