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The Future is Unwritten

Some of you may have followed the news that the Nevada State Engineer, using language literally written by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, approved the withdrawal of billions of gallons of groundwater from the Great Basin – one of the last relatively pristine areas of the Continental United States.

A lot of people have seen the ubiquitous advertising (our public dollars at work!) on the teevees, radio, “newspapers” and alternative weeklies telling us what a great idea this is. That golly, the SNWA believes in conservation. That gosh, they wouldn’t take that water unless they really, really had to. And by jiminy, those guys really love the peeps and habitat of rural Nevada.

Well, guess what?  Less than 24 hours after the NSE decision, SNWA says that the pipeline pumping and construction, once “years away,” may be less than three years from now. There has to be a special place in hell for the lying liars who will say and do anything to screw the public. Yes, the pipeline may be at least two, but not necessarily three, years from now, according to one of the agency’s multitude of lawyers.

So look carefully at the huge rate hike you will see in next month and throughout the summer. Think of how it sucks money from your groceries, children’s education, health care and ability to pay your mortgage. And then triple it. Because that’s what you will be seeing – and that’s just according to the SNWA’s own (state-required) independent analysis.

The reality is, every year the L.A. Department of Water and Power to our west now pays hundreds of millions more than the agency ever expected for the decades-old effort to drain Owens Lake, on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, to slake the thirst of Los Angeles consumers. The agency officials there literally have no feasible plan to ever end the financial hemorrhaging that they are forced to pay because of the ongoing defoliation of Sierra Nevada to support water waste in Los Angeles. To compensate, inadequately, for destroying the ecology of the Sierra Nevada, Californians are sending huge paychecks to those communities able to hang on and fight. That’s our future.

So $15.5 billion, the most recent estimate from SNWA’s paid financial advisors, might be overly optimistic, as “public works” nightmares almost always are, despite the fact that this would be one of the most expensive projects in American history.  And unlike, say, the Apollo moon shot, the cost would be borne by residents and businesses in a single economically depressed county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. (It would generate perhaps 1,000 jobs, mostly outside of Clark County. No word on how many jobs or champagne parties it will bring to Wall Street, where most of the money will end up.)

That’s the unending financial nightmare that awaits Las Vegas. And the greatest tragedy is that this is not necessary. Las Vegas uses a little more than two-thirds of its safe, reliable water resource allocated from the Colorado River. And we could reduce that use by encouraging conservation – the safest, easiest and cheapest source of additional water around.

I’ve made the point that this started as an effort to help build disgraced developer Harvey Whittemore’s doomed Coyote Springs project 60 miles north of Las Vegas (because who couldn’t love the worst example of leapfrog development in the country?). It’s ended in a vanity project that promises to cripple Las Vegas’ nascent economic recovery with huge utility bills.

I’m a big old liberal. I love government spending when it is an investment in our community – schools, transit, energy. Even water management. But this isn’t anything that any progressive should embrace. It is a “public works” project that is designed to benefit the 1 percent at the cost of permanent, catastrophic, environmental damage to a huge part of our country, paid for by working Clark County residents, despite overwhelming evidence that it is will drain our pocketbooks faster than our Great Basin aquifers.  It’s not too late. Let’s turn off the money spigot for an unnecessary and bankrupting project.



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