Las Vegas Sun

December 20, 2014

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The Sunday editorial:

Whatever it takes to bring water to valley

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Sam Morris

Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy has long backed a water pipeline from White Pine County to Las Vegas.

Pat Mulroy retired Feb. 6, leaving a long legacy as head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Mulroy helped create the authority in 1991, then found ways to provide the water that fueled Las Vegas' explosive growth.

A tireless advocate for Southern Nevada, Mulroy negotiated creative deals to maximize Las Vegas' water supply from the Colorado River, which is the source of about 90 percent of the region's water. And that wasn't an easy task.

The laws that regulate the Colorado River are stacked against Nevada; they were written nearly 100 years ago when Southern Nevada's population was counted by the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands. But Mulroy and her staff found ways to maximize water from the Colorado through conservation efforts and smart agreements that continued to keep the water flowing.

Mulroy not only has provided water but also has provided a strong vision for years to come. There are still serious challenges ahead for her successor, John Entsminger.

Entsminger, who served as Mulroy's top deputy for several years, is well prepared and versed on what lies ahead. The drought on the Colorado River continues to take its toll, leaving a precarious future for Southern Nevada. With water levels continuing to drop at Lake Mead, there is a very real concern that the region's main water supply could dry up.

Entsminger will have to press ahead on a plan put together by Mulroy that has attracted significant opposition. Mulroy proposed building a 300-mile pipeline to carry water from rural eastern Nevada to Las Vegas.

The plan recently suffered a setback when a judge in White Pine County overruled state approval that gave the authority permission to pump some water. The case is on appeal, and hopefully, the state Supreme Court will see the folly in that ruling. Clark County accounts for nearly three-quarters of the state's population, and it drives the economy. Anything that harms Clark County harms the state itself.

And there aren't many real alternatives to the pipeline.

The state could cap growth in Clark County, but that would effectively cap the state's economic growth as well.

But critics of the pipeline plan say it is unnecessary. They maintain that the water authority could increase conservation efforts, and while that certainly could help, it won't provide enough water, especially if Southern Nevada's take from the Colorado River is limited.

Pipeline opponents also have suggested that the water authority pursue a proposal to build desalination plants along the Pacific Ocean in California. Under such a plan, the water authority would give California the water from the desalination plants in exchange for keeping the same amount of water, which otherwise would go to California, in Lake Mead for our use. Although that might be an idea worth exploring, it's not one to go all in on. If California agreed to the deal, it would be expensive to build and operate the plants. There also are significant environmental issues that go along with a desalination plant that would need to be worked out.

But more importantly, the desalination proposal would further tie Southern Nevada's future to the Colorado River. With the continued drought, and California Gov. Jerry Brown declaring a drought emergency, don't expect Nevada to get more water from the Colorado; California certainly will be flexing its muscle for it.

The answer for the state is simple: a pipeline to rural Nevada. That will have to be more than Mulroy's legacy; it will have to be Entsminger's top priority.

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