Before he began speaking at the breakfast meeting of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance on Tuesday, John Entsminger took a drink. He said he had a cold, but the real reason for the sip was the subsequent Marco Rubio joke — a much-needed ice-breaker for Entsminger’s first public appearance since the Clark County Commissioners’ Jan. 7 vote dubbing him Pat Mulroy’s replacement as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Mulroy’s careful grooming of Entsminger showed in both his close adherence to her agenda and his skillful avoidance of the Big Questions.
He began by reminding the audience that, when demand outstrips supply — as is the case with the thirst of Colorado River Basin dwellers and the river’s flow — there are only three things to do: use less, acquire more and/or make delivery more efficient.
For the first option, conservation, the Water Authority will continue to take aim at lawns, Entsminger said. While rural areas pour their Colorado River water allotments on alfalfa and pasture grass, municipalities dump theirs on fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Turf, then, is low-hanging fruit in Las Vegas conservation efforts. As for acquiring more water, Entsminger hastily affirmed the continued existence of the “in-state project” (known alternatively as the “water grab”), which would pipe water from the basin and range land of Central and Eastern Nevada south to greater Las Vegas. And making delivery of the water more efficient is the purpose of the Authority’s facilities projects, such as the third intake into Lake Mead that’s under construction.
Entsminger didn’t offer insight into the wrenches recently thrown in his tidy three-wheeled gears. In December, for instance, opponents of the water pipeline won a court victory, when a Nevada district judge overturned the state engineer’s approval of SNWA’s plan. The month before, contractors working on the third intake asked the Authority’s board for funds to get it through a 13-month construction delay.
Of course, as any city dweller who’s had her subway commute rerouted during road improvements will tell you, surprises are in the DNA of public works projects. That’s not the juicy part of what Entsminger left out. This is: If snow-melt from the Rockies hits worst-case-scenario projections, declines in the water levels at Lakes Mead and Powell could trigger emergency measures among Colorado River Basin states (read: water rationing) within the next few years. What would these emergency measures look like? How would they be implemented here in Southern Nevada?
In a crisis situation, all bets are usually off. It’s safe to assume Entsminger’s three-pronged approach to supply and demand would take a back seat to some fast and furious negotiating with his counterparts in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. That’s when we’d see what the new water boss is really made of.