Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, talks with Circle of Blue at the 5th Annual WaterSmart Innovations Conference.
Welcome to Circle of Blue Radio’s series 5 in 15, where we’re asking global thought leaders five questions in 15 minutes – more or less. These are experts working in journalism, science, communication design, and water; I’m J. Carl Ganter. Today’s program is underwritten by Traverse Internet Law – tech-savvy lawyers representing internet and technology companies.
Our guest today is Patricia “Pat” Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. I caught up with Pat at the 5th Annual WaterSmart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas last week.
In that world, we then had to take this community through a conservation exercise, which was really grueling. We decided to be strategic about it. Rather than do the traditional Western temporary draconian measures, we said, “You know, every crisis is an opportunity. And we’ve been gently nudging this community through voluntary conservation, through education, but that’s only gonna get you so far. We’ve gotta take it to the next level, but let’s do it in a way that, whatever changes we make, these changes stay.” So we began… we looked at… we knew how we used water: we use most of our water outside. You can’t live in the driest desert in the United States — last year, we had one inch of rain — without watering outside; it just can’t happen. Well, unfortunately all those from the East Coast and from the Midwest who moved to southern Nevada brought all their vegetation with them. We had Kentucky bluegrass and magnolias and lovely vegetation. [I] think it’s beautiful — doesn’t belong in the Mojave Desert. So we said, “Well, there isn’t a price point at which we can raise our water prices to where it becomes economical for someone to make that original capital investment to change out their landscaping.”
It has been a journey. And, to me, I’ve always looked at the future of water. Because, as a people, we want that silver-bullet solution. There is no silver-bullet solution. It’s a mosaic; that’s the best way to describe it. And every piece of the mosaic has to be there for the entire picture to come alive. It’s the same with the solutions around water. The foundational piece is conservation. And I don’t care whether you live in New York, whether you live in Chicago, whether you live in Louisville, whether you live in some of the wetter places in the southern United States. We can’t continue to use water the way we do in this country. That’s foundational. It’s a cultural change, and it won’t happen overnight — it’s a journey, and it gets better with every generation. The older someone is, the less likely they are to change. Then there is also — and this is probably where it gets very, very difficult — we’ve, and especially in the West, we’ve been so fiercely competitive. You know, there have been winners and losers. And I’ve had one mission over the last 20 years, and that’s getting people to just drop that veil. There won’t be a winner. All you’re going to have is losers. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You’ve got to work as a partnership.
But the solutions lie in making all those agreements that we held up as having been etched in stone prove they’re flexible. And they are. I mean, this much-maligned Colorado River Compact, at the end of the day, it allows seven states to do whatever seven states can agree to do, but it allows no one state to roll over their neighbors. Which is, in my mind, the healthiest foundation. There are any number of opportunities to build bridges around water and open understandings between cultures, and these seven states are culturally very, very different — not just politically, but culturally, water-law wise — and now we’re immersed in these negotiations with Mexico, and so a whole other culture is entering into the discussions. But the solutions that we crafted in ’07 and the solutions that we’re crafting now all depend on this partnership. And set aside the notion that there will be winners and there will be losers, because there can’t be any winners.