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Senior deputy completes ascent to take reins of Las Vegas Valley Water District

Water District New General Manager

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

John Entsminger leaves the County Commission chambers after being named the new general manager for the Las Vegas Valley Water District Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014.

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 | 5:37 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

John Entsminger talks to the media after being named the new general manager for the Las Vegas Valley Water District Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014.

Fifteen years after he was hired out of law school to join the Las Vegas Valley Water District’s legal department, John Entsminger has been chosen to take the agency’s top job, replacing Pat Mulroy, who will retire next month after 25 years as general manager.

Entsminger, a senior deputy general manager at the district since 2010, was the lone candidate to replace Mulroy. Since announcing her retirement in September, Mulroy had openly endorsed Entsminger as her preferred successor.

Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, the other serious candidate for the position, announced his withdrawal from consideration Monday, clearing the way for Entsminger’s appointment Tuesday in a unanimous vote by the Water District Board.

“I believe it is in everyone’s best interest that this organization move forward immediately with a seasoned and defined leader,” said Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, who chairs the Water District board that includes all seven Clark County commissioners. “We face serious operational and strategic issues in the Water District and Water Authority that cannot be postponed even for a day.”

In endorsing Entsminger, Scow described him as a uniquely qualified candidate with the knowledge, experience and relationships to take over the agency at a critical time in its history.

Entsminger’s hiring won’t be final until terms of a contract are negotiated and approved by the board. The board must also ratify its appointment at a meeting later this month due to procedural concerns about whether the meeting was properly noticed to the public.

A separate vote is scheduled Jan. 16 to confirm Entsminger as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Water District’s parent organization. The two agencies are separate entities with their own staffs, budgets and governance, but Mulroy has held the top job at both since the SNWA was formed in 1991, a practice that is expected to continue with Entsminger.

Mulroy plans to retire Feb. 6 after 25 years leading the Water District through an era of unprecedented change.

During her tenure, she oversaw the multibillion-dollar expansion of the valley's water-delivery system while also raising Southern Nevada's stature among states that rely on water from the Colorado River. In the process, Mulroy became an internationally recognized leader on water-resource issues.

Entsminger admitted replacing Mulroy would be a big challenge, but he’s ready after years of preparing for the role.

“Pat has been one of the most successful water managers in the history of water management,” Entsminger said. “I’d be lying if I said it isn’t daunting to be asked to be the successor to Pat Mulroy. The one thing that gives me confidence is that Pat herself has groomed me as her number two, and she’s told me that she believes in me. I don’t want to let her down.”

Entsminger joined the Water District’s legal department in 1999 after graduating from the University of Colorado Law School and has spent his entire career with the district. His early work covered everything from human resources to purchasing contracts. Eventually he found himself dealing with complex Colorado River water laws.

He continued to ascend through the agency, working on a landmark 2007 water shortage agreement brokered among Colorado River states and serving as one of the lead negotiators in a water-sharing treaty with Mexico signed in 2012.

Entsminger will take over the Water District and Water Authority at a time when the role of the agencies is changing. With the valley’s water infrastructure nearly complete, minus the under-construction third intake straw at Lake Mead, their focus will shift from construction and expansion toward managing a shrinking supply of water from the Colorado River.

“The organization is evolving into more of an operation-and-management agency,” Entsminger said. “One of my primary tasks will be making sure the agency is ready to fulfill that new mission.”

Entsminger offered little indication Tuesday he would deviate from the course Mulroy has set for the Water District and Water Authority.

One major question that will loom over Entsminger’s early tenure is the fate of the authority’s multibillion-plan to pump groundwater from rural Nevada to meet the valley’s water needs. The plan has generated controversy since its inception nearly two decades ago. The idea suffered a setback last month when a White Pine County District Court decision overturned the authority’s rights to pump portions of the groundwater.

The authority hasn’t yet decided what it’s next move will be, but Entsminger maintains the groundwater project needs to be an option in Southern Nevada’s portfolio if the Colorado River’s water supplies continue to dwindle in the face of ongoing drought throughout the western United States.

CORRECTION: John Entsminger started working at the Southern Nevada Water Authority in 1999. SNWA was formed in 1991. | (February 11, 2014)

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