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September 1, 2022

Pat Mulroy futurecasts as Lake Mead shrinks | The Barrick's newest exhibit draws inspiration from family ties |  These days, the coffee game is a grind | A summer treat that needs no apology

NEVADA FACES an eight percent cut in its use of Colorado River water. The mandate comes after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation told states dependent on the Colorado that they must reduce their water use by 15 to 20 percent. That was in June, and on August 17, U.S officials announced the additional water cuts for Nevada and Arizona, where a 21 percent cut is in effect. KNPR's State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann recently talked to Pat Mulroy, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), about the future of water use in the Southwest as Lake Mead circles “the bottom of the martini glass.” 

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How far away are we until we truly have to change our lifestyle, taking measures such as mandatory grass removal and limiting tourism? 
Any water that's used inside is captured, recycled, and returned to Lake Mead, and for every gallon we put back in Lake Mead, we can take an additional gallon out. So indoor water use is never lost. So when you point to the casino industry, that's fallacious. Most of the water they use is indoor water. They are what we always call the base loader; they use the same winter, spring, summer, fall. They don't peak, because most of their water use is inside. So we're actually pretty lucky here in Southern Nevada that that is our main industry. Now, how long is it going to be before we have to make some more draconian changes? There are some pretty heavy duty changes on the table right now. But those I don't think are going to change lifestyles. If we achieve the goal that the SNWA has set out and we reach that 86 gallons or 82 gallons per person per day, we're going to be fine for a while. 

Is this even our fault when we (the state of Nevada) get the smallest allotment from the river?
This isn't our fault, but you can't blame historic farmers downstream necessarily either. Do they have some very water intensive irrigation practices because of the soils that they have to plant in? Yes, they do. Do they have an opportunity, or do they have to be a huge part of the solution to leave water behind? Yes, they do. The tougher it gets, the more that (pointing fingers) is going to happen. So the sooner there is … let's call it the next chapter in water conservation on the Colorado River, post–the last round that was signed in 2019, once we get that on the table, then there'll be some more quiet and peace. 

The last time you were on State of Nevada, you mentioned desalination and a previous caller has brought up a possible pipeline as solutions to the water crisis.
It (desalination) is a huge part of the solution. But, this is a mosaic; it's not a silver bullet solution. There have to be various pieces that come together. You have to lower the aggregate use in the lower basin. This constantly escalating use cannot continue in perpetuity. So you have to embrace conservation; you have to embrace changing irrigation practices. You're going to have to make some fundamental changes in how we use it. But having said that, we also need to look at every possible option that's out there to augment the system, and I have heard the conversation about bringing water in through flood control projects from the Mississippi area and then servicing the far eastern border of the Colorado River states. Is it technologically possible? Yes, it's technologically possible. There are also any number of larger desal options. But I promise you every single augmentation, solution, idea, or concept will have a cadre of opponents. 

Let’s say you are able to do anything you want, you'll never be taken to court, to resolve the issues at hand. What would you do to solve this problem?
I would tackle the Salton Sea. I think it's the juggernaut. Let's look at the Imperial Irrigation District. They are the single biggest user of water in the Colorado River Basin. Of California’s 4.4 million acre feet, they have 3.3 (million). The way they irrigate is they bring Colorado River water in through their little canals off the All-American (Canal). They flood irrigate the field. All the fields have tiles underlying them. The water seeps through those tiles because they're flushing the salts away from the crops. That water goes into another set of canals and it goes to the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea is going hypersaline. It already has a higher salinity than the ocean. Bring ocean water into the Salton Sea, stabilize the Salton Sea … huge environmental benefit. There are countless species that will benefit from stabilizing the (Salton) Sea at ocean-level quality. Have an outflow way past, way out. Is it expensive? You bet. Can we afford to not even think about it? No we can’t.

An outflow so that the salts don't aggregate dirt near the coast?
Absolutely. You have to get them into a current that takes them out into the ocean. Build that facility, stabilize the Salton Sea at ocean level, then build an inland desalter at the expense of the cities and the federal government, and give that water to the farmers.

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You have said before that the feds can’t come in and do whatever they want. Why can’t they?
All waters are a reserved right of the states. The secretary of interior is only the water master in the lower basin, and she was given that authority by the United States Supreme Court as a result of California v. Arizona. In the upper basin, the secretary has no authority on how they use water. It is a state's right if they run the plumbing system, but that's it and they have to serve us the orders that come from the states. The compact is the foundation because the states agreed to it. In the lower basin, could the secretary invoke shortages in the lower basin? Yes, but with handcuffs on. They can't touch the Imperial Irrigation District, they can't touch Palo Verde, they can't touch Yuma. They can't touch any number of what are called prior protected rights. They have to follow the priority system. So who are they going to get? They're going to get the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California, the Central Arizona Project, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. That's the end of their ability. 

Given that, do you think these states are going to come to an agreement?
Yes, because they're not stupid. If I'm sitting down in Southern California and I know that by next year Lake Mead could go to elevation 1,000, 100 feet away from dead pool, and you're at the bottom of the martini glass. Am I really going to play Russian roulette and do nothing? No, I can't afford it. My entire community will go under.

For the full conversation, visit  KNPR’s State of Nevada

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FOUR YEARS AGO, the thread of Mary Corey March’s  Identity Tapestry wove Dr. Erika Abad into the Las Vegas arts community. “It was happenstance,” Abad says. Abad had been talking with Mary-Ann Wilkemes, then UNLV’s Director of Instructional Development and Research, about her desire to integrate social media socialization into the courses she taught for the university’s Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies Department. Wilkemes suggested she partner with the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. “That partnership,” Abad says, “ended up with me chronicling on Twitter and Instagram peoples’ engagement with the  Identity Tapestry.”

March’s  Identity Tapestry is an interactive piece that encourages museum-goers to take a piece of string and loop it around statements — such as “I am a woman” and “I have a deadly disease” — that are true for them. Abad herself claims identities that shape her research, art, and allyship. Growing up Catholic, being of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, and becoming the first member of her mother's family to receive a PhD, Abad engages a unique perspective on culture. 

Abad's academic journey — which began with her mother sending her to boarding school — was marked by complications, on a personal and systemic level. “Moms aren't supposed to send their daughters away,” she says, “but she did because she wanted us to have the best shot.” Abad continues, “The family that funded my high school education was one of the families that profited from forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women”. These insights into the way her life was woven were crucial in shaping how she approaches art. 

“I'm not supposed to exist,” Abad says. “Not only am I not supposed to exist because I'm the granddaughter of an illiterate person … I'm also the daughter of a woman who wanted her children to achieve the American dream, and in opening the doors … I became the child who said, ‘The American dream isn't what you think it is and also something that isn't going to give me the happiness and freedom that I want because I know what it costs.’”

Abad’s exit from education was just as transformative as her experiences as a student. She strived to become economically independent after spending her “entire life seeing (her) mother struggle.” Disheartened by the competitive nature of the academic job market, she learned to hustle.

“Here I am — PhD in hand — working second shifts at a call center, getting my food at the food pantry, which devastated my mother's heart," Abad recalls. "I'm living this entire life that people with PhDs aren't supposed to live, and, in that life, I'm seeing why the decision that my mom made was important. I'm seeing single moms working third shifts at a call center because they have to figure out child care. And in all my cushioned affirmative action poster child upbringing, I'm learning from a population that people in my family never wanted me to be.” 

After years of writing, teaching, and performing at open mics, Abad left her hometown of Chicago and started teaching at UNLV. “Since I was 14, I've moved every four to six years,” Abad says, “This is the longest place I've lived, and I made that commitment in meeting people like Justin Favela, Alisha Kerlin, and Fawn Douglas. I said these are people I can build things with.”

This move led to Abad’s involvement with the  Identity Tapestry and also connected her with Alisha Kerlin, executive director of the Barrick Museum. "I remember the moment I first met Dr. Abad,” Kerlin says. “She had tremendous energy, especially for collaboration ... From that moment forward, we were a team, working together to build a better museum for our students."

The two took on the task of broadening the museum’s catalog — which Kerlin described as “too white and too male” at the time — and consistently discussed “how to bring more artists of color and more queer artists into the space.” The culmination of this ongoing conversation is the exhibition Two Cultures, One Family, curated by Abad herself.

“Curating this exhibit started as a love letter to my mother and to parents like her and to

children like me,” Abad says. The exhibition weaves together Abad's role as an artist, ally, educator, and researcher. “This idea was born out of a lecture I did in grad school,” she says. “Instead of writing a narrative on the intersection of colonialism, assimilation, and racism, I’ve curated an exhibit around it.” 

In Two Cultures, One Family, Abad navigates notions of family, reproductive justice, gender, and bicultural integration. You can see this represented in the featured artists: Las Vegas artist to national star Justin Favela, pop Nahua visual artist Xochil Xitlalli, trans video luminary Chris E. Vargas, indigenous art activist Fawn Douglas, and paint-slinging savant Lance L. Smith to name a few.

“I think the protections for immigrants and the protections for queer folks are so fragile and whimsical,” Abad says. “One of the things I love about this exhibit is that the artists are talking about it and visually and aesthetically representing it without necessarily being explicit.” The intentionality in her layering is crucial in understanding the purpose of Two Cultures, One Family. “We all share the sentiment of social responsibility of telling the stories of the people we came from,” Abad says. 

The intellect, subtlety, and dialogues Abad has created for Two Cultures, One Family are relentless in their accuracy and the curation represents work done in the face of multiple cultural conflicts. With a panoply of in-museum engagements, the Barrick and Abad, who will draw inspiration from these pieces and their artists to write a series of essays, are prepared to give the Valley a necessary lesson in cross-cultural healing.  

Two Cultures, One Family runs from August 30, 2022 to January 28, 2023 at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art (4505 S. Maryland Pkwy.)


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SPEND FIVE DOLLARS for a gallon of gasoline or even more for twelve ounces of caffeine-based deliciousness? That perfect cup of coffee brewed exclusively for you in your favorite shop to fuel your day still competes for every inflation-rattled dollar.

A new coffee shop seems to open every other week in the Las Vegas Valley. Cars snake around drive-throughs. Those seeking shelter from the summer heat, access to good Wi-Fi, and an expertly prepared latte linger in a robust variety of cafés.

They range from hip to formal, quirky to quaint. There are the minimalists and the decadent. Many eschew food; more than a few have gourmet treats. Some are unapologetically grab-and-go; others welcome patrons to pause and experience the difference. Corporations back the most famous chains, but other shops represent the inspired dream of individuals passionate about coffee.

Among those who have built sturdy reputations through the years for farm-to-cup excellence is Luiz Oliveira, who opened Sambalatte in Boca Park in 2010. Back then, when Starbucks still dominated the local scene, few independent competitors and even fewer innovators challenged him.

Now the market is fragmented, Oliveira says, noting a five-mile stretch on Rainbow from Blue Diamond to Hacienda has about 10 shops. More than 300 shops (three of them Oliveira’s Sambalatte) dot the Valley’s landscape, roughly double the count in 2010, he says.

“I used to get a lot of people from Mountain’s Edge,” Oliveira says. “They’d have a coffee in the morning. Now, if they are in a hurry, for convenience, they don’t have to come to me anymore. They come to us for the experience, because we appreciate them, and for the quality. So here is a niche that you need to create because otherwise you get drowned by all those people coming out, surrounding you, and taking your market share.”

His goal, first and foremost, is to respect the bean: innovate and serve the highest-quality cup every time because you never know when you’re creating a dedicated fan. He has roasted his own beans since 2014. Other keys to success, he says, include simple word of mouth, search engine optimization, social media engagement, community involvement, and having a personal presence in the shop.

Oliveira hopes to open the Sambalatte Roastery Coffee Lab on South Jones later this year with a roaster and tasting room. It will host classes and other events to educate staff and consumers, creating a buzz not only from the coffee but about the coffee.

“The more well-educated the consumer, the more loyal they become to your brand, and they appreciate and drink good coffee,” Oliveira says.

That type of education will percolate an even more dynamic coffee landscape for Las Vegas, says Don Anderson, a Southern Nevada resident since 1961, who opened Colorado River Coffee Roasters with his wife in 2009.

His was the only roaster in the area at the time, but now there are several, such as Vesta Coffee Roasters and Mothership Coffee Roasters, operating throughout the Valley. Roasting is a time-consuming, intense business, so Anderson deliberately chose not to open a retail shop. Instead, he invites potential clients to Boulder City for a taste and sells roasted beans to interested individuals, coffee shops, and restaurants. 

Marketing coffee and introducing nuanced flavors of delicate roasts are not easy tasks, he said.

“I’ve got to get them in front of me,” Anderson says. “Somehow, I’ve got to get them to taste it. You don’t just do it on a billboard, you just don’t put an ad in the newspaper, you don’t just send it out in the flier that goes home … The education comes with people having an ‘Aha!’ or a ‘What was that?’ moment.

He rhapsodizes on the experience: This coffee has some blueberry notes and a long finish, and you’re going to pick up some dark chocolate. … This coffee will taste of green apple … or is it chocolate-covered cherry?

He quickly dispels the notion that Las Vegas is close to becoming a coffee mecca to approach its newfound reputation as a foodie city with renowned chefs plating ever-more ambitious entrées on the Strip and beyond.

“We are developing a larger number of sophisticated coffee drinkers percentage-wise. ... I suspect it’s a smaller percentage than you would find in other cities. And I think that is in contrast to food, by the way,” Anderson says. “But I’m not sure that we’re particularly sophisticated in coffee. It’s been an uphill battle for us all along … It’s got a long way to go before the world comes to Las Vegas for coffee.”

But coffee beans come from around the world, grown in places acutely affected by climate change. Anderson, 75, will turn over the business to younger members of his family, but he is concerned about miles of coffee-growing land evaporating each year because of changing climate conditions — increasing the cost of beans and driving smaller roasters out of business.

“Availability of the raw material is a huge concern … It’s going to become more and more scarce,” Anderson says. “If you look at the world map and the increasing desertification of the middle latitudes, you worry. Coffee comes out of the tropics. Where else is it going to grow? ”

While Anderson is more concerned with climate change, Oliveira and others in the coffee industry deal with even more immediate problems: finding and retaining good employees and high transportation costs. Sambalatte is down from 36 employees pre-pandemic to 18 now. In an Instagram post from August 13, Golden Fog Coffee cited "staff shortages" as their reason for temporarily closing. August also saw the closure of Grouchy John's Coffee on Charleston and the month prior came with the closure of Fort Bedlam. Neither shop, however, explicitly or publicly linked their closures to a labor shortage.

Regarding high transportation costs, Oliveira says that freight that was 25 cents a pound last year has increased to 75 cents a pound in the last few months. Moreover, to ship a container from Santos, Brazil, to Miami used to cost $3,500; now it costs $15,500. He hopes at least shipping costs come down by next year.

Meanwhile, Oliveira will continue to help set the bar for the local coffee roasting and brewing community. He says consumers are constantly seeking healthier additions to go with their coffee addictions. Alternative milks (oat, almond, coconut, and soy, in that order of popularity) now represent more than 50 percent of consumption, he says.

“You have to keep adjusting and evolving with those changes. We’re going to be always searching for the new thing,” Oliveira says. “What it is, I don’t know. I just have to keep my ears and my eyes open, so I can look to see if it works for us. Or if it does not.” 


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SOMETIMES, ALL IT TAKES is a wall. A fun, flashy wall that lures Instagrammers and TikTokkers, creates irresistible buzz, and hopefully attracts lines that stretch around the block.

In the case of Sorry, Not Sorry Creamery, two walls of theirs have been splashed over my Instagram feed time and time again: One wall features a sprawling, whimsical mural from local artist Pretty Done, and the other sports a smiley face rendered in glowing pink neon. With its cute, clean aesthetic and baby-shower color palette, the recently opened ice cream shop totally pops on Instagram, which should come as no surprise: Sorry, Not Sorry’s cofounder Drew Belcher also happens to run one of Las Vegas’ most successful Instagram foodie accounts, @unlokt. He knows better than anyone how to turn customers into viral marketers who can’t pass up the chance for a fun selfie.

“If you look at the characters in the Pretty Done mural, everything has a little meaning. There’s a lot of Vegas innuendos and references,” Belcher explains. “Once people are standing in line, you want to give them something to do, and you want to see if they can provide some sort of marketing for you for free.”

Belcher didn’t achieve his mastery of generating social media buzz overnight. He started Unlokt 10 years ago as an iPhone app to showcase local eats. He then launched an Instagram account to promote the app. That account ballooned into its own foodie phenom that today has more than 400,000 followers. After years of posting about the Vegas food scene, Belcher developed Unlokt into a marketing agency that currently works with 58 clients, including buzzy restaurants such as Good Pie and Truffles N Bacon Cafe.

So why launch an ice cream shop? Isn’t Belcher rolling in the dough as a foodie influencer turned marketing impresario? Not as much as you might think. Belcher points out that today’s social media supernova means there’s a glut of would-be influencers crowding the market.

“With every single foodie in Las Vegas or just on Instagram in general, there’s not really money to be made per se,” he says. “A lot of the time, these restaurant owners are so spoiled because they’re entirely built off the back of these Instagram influencers now for pretty much pennies, nearly chump change. Instagram influencers are literally changing the dynamic of these businesses — increasing the sales, increasing the following, and literally growing their brand for peanuts. They’re just so excited and happy to do it.”

Even with 1.3 million followers on his Unlokt TikTok account, Belcher says he only makes “a couple hundred bucks a month from the Creator Fund.” That’s one of the reasons Belcher, along with partners Tim Dang and Kevin Whelan, decided to open a brick-and-mortar shop of their own.

“I got tired of growing these brands and blowing them up, and then getting fired six months or a year in after getting so attached to these brands emotionally,” Belcher says. “I said, ‘You know what, instead of making all these other restaurant owners all this money, why don’t I throw my hat in the ring and really utilize what I’ve learned building a brand on social media?’”

Of course, he also recognized that he had to have a great product. “We wanted to make sure that we actually had not only a good aesthetic, but we had to have the best ice cream you can physically possibly make. And that’s what we did.” Sorry, Not Sorry sources its dairy from Scott Brothers Dairy, the same farm from which Portland-based ice cream phenomenon Salt & Straw gets its dairy. “Scott Brothers Dairy is the number-one dairy farm in the entire United States, out of Chino, California,” Belcher says. “It’s a 110 year-old dairy farm with 18 percent butterfat. Any more butterfat and legally you would have to call it custard.”

A sampling of Sorry, Not Sorry’s selections proves that Belcher isn’t just talking hype. The richness of the dairy elevates traditional flavors such as Mint Chocolate Chunk and complements the jammier flavors of their Crunchy PB&J and Strawberry Balsamic with Black Pepper. My personal favorite, Churros and Fudge, is a vegan, oat milk-based flavor that’s just as velvety as its dairy-based counterparts.

“You’ll see stunt food, the crazy viral items, on Instagram, but is it good?” Belcher says. “It may get people in the door, but getting them to come back over and over is the dilemma that a lot of restaurant owners find themselves in.”

At Sorry, Not Sorry, the design choices are attuned to smartphone snappers, but it’s the craft creamery’s product — served traditionally in a cup or cone with few frills — that will keep the foodies flocking back. Sorry, Not Sorry’s Instagram account, which has only been active for two months, already has more than 22,000 followers. But it’s a good bet that the new creamery’s rising profile on social media won’t just be a fleeting five minutes of Insta fame: Belcher and his team already have two more Sorry, Not Sorry Creamery locations in the works.

Sorry, Not Sorry (9484 W. Flamingo Rd.) is open Mon. - Thurs. from 12 p.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat. from 12 p.m. - 12 a.m., and Sun. from 12 p.m. - 11 p.m. 


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Photos and art: Identity on Display by Scott Lien; Ice Cream Social by Sabin Orr

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