The Long Odds On The Western Drought


Dried land

The online investigative journalism magazine is in the middle of a series of stories about the western drought

The odds on how long the current drought will last aren’t posted in the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

But if they were, one choice would have to be: forever.

Given this drought has the Southwest in a tight grip, the online investigative journalism magazine ProPublica has taken a deep look at water here.

And, to put it mildly, they have so far left no one unscathed.

One headline attached to an interactive graphic and map of Las Vegas growth on the site says this: “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas ... while water supplies last.”

One of the stories written by environment reporter Abrahm Lustgarten focuses on former Southern Nevada Water Authority head Pat Mulroy, who takes on the title ‘Water Witch’ without much argument.

From ProPublica: The 'Water Witch'

Lustgarten told KNPR’s State of Nevada that Mulroy has had two vital but perhaps conflicting roles in southern Nevada. She can be credited with keeping the water flowing, but that also allowed the city to grow and use more water.

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 “On one hand, she performed miracles,” Lustgaren explained, “She came in to be the chief water official in Las Vegas in the late 1980s and was immediately faced with a warning that the city was going to be running out to water in five years.”

He said she found water resources to make sure the city not only didn’t run out of water, but it continued phenomenal growth and economic development.  

“On the other hand, she facilitated much of that growth and that’s what we focused on in our story is whether or not she had opportunities or whether the water district had opportunities to manage the distribution of Las Vegas’s resources in way that might have shaped demand and shaped the city’s footprint differently,” Lustgarten said.

On KNPR’s State of Nevada, Mulroy has said there doesn’t need to be a moratorium on growth in Las Vegas or the Southwest.

She pointed out that Las Vegas added 500,000 new residences while cutting its water use by 40 percent. 

"It's not about stopping development it’s about making sure it's smart development  that it is water efficient development," Mulroy said.

She has also said that Las Vegas’ growth has not contributed to the drop at the lake.   

Lustgarten agreed: “When you look at the bathtub ring at Lake Mead, she is correct in saying you can’t pin the blame for that on Las Vegas’ use.”

But he said, whether the city uses very little of its allotment of water, it still needs more because of growth. He said the limitations of the regions’ environment have not been a factor in the city’s growth.

“Critics of Pat Mulroy, and her agencies that have managed that water over the years, say that there were opportunities to allocate water usage or set even more strict guidelines about how that water can be used.” Lustegarten said.

The people Lustergarten spoke to for his stories are not advocating stopping or prohibiting growth but think it can be done in a more sustainable way.

“The greatest opportunity to achieve water savings is going to come through efficiency more than great vast inventions or new pipelines from the Mississppi River,” he said.  

From ProPublica: Holy Crop



Abrahm Lustgarten, enviromental reporter, ProPublica 

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