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How could they [SNWA] not have known?

by George Knapp (LV City Life) Saturday, Jun. 09, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Drought and over extended water rights to developers resulted in the SNWA pushing the panic button and proposing the rural water grab pipeline as a needed measure to prevent an "urban collapse" scenario. The SNWA propaganda may be serving the interests of developers looking to build suburban sprawl along the U.S. 93 corridor parallel to the proposed pipeline route.

Oh, woe is us. Who could have ever foreseen the dreadful calamity that has struck? How could we have possibly known that the economy might collapse or that a drought might occur? Dearie me, the humanity of it all.

The handwringing and excuse-making is in full blossom over at Southern Nevada Water Authority. By now, water officials have a thick file of ready-made phrases to explain how and why they got us into such a mess. Mostly, those excuses center on the fact that no one could have known that our situation would get so bad, so therefore it is no one's fault.

That's bull. Water officials in general -- and one in particular -- have been using this crappy, see-through, all-purpose, get-out-of-jail-free card for a lot of years now, but it no longer holds water, no pun intended. The situation we find ourselves in is the direct result of piss-poor planning for the past 25 years, of selective myopia spawned by greed for dollars and personal power. To say that no one could have seen any of this coming -- which is what the water folks said again and again this week, as they did last year and the year before -- is a bunch of crap.

Tell me, business owners, how do you like those water bills you've been getting, the ones that jumped 100 percent, 200 percent or 300 percent in just a month? Well, if you love those bills, wait until you see what's next. As we now know, our water officials needed a way to pay for $3 billion in debt they rang up for expensive projects during their drunken-sailor spending spree. Three years from now, even more debts will come due, and no matter how you cut it, the rest of us will have to come up with a way to pay off that debt as well, because they didn't have an alternate plan. Oh, but there's much more to come.

Back in the 1980s, when everything was grow-at-any cost, water officials were repeatedly warned that the Colorado River basin is historically prone to drought, that drought is more the norm here in the driest state in the country. They looked at the historical tree-ring records, which show there have been numerous droughts longer than the current one -- and chose to ignore the information because no one wanted to spoil the party. And then, when the drought finally hit, which was inevitable, they whined that no one could have foreseen it. It took them four years into the drought before they finally adopted a drought emergency policy. That's called poor planning.

How about foreseeing the end of the growth boom? No one saw that coming either, eh? More than five years ago, SNWA paid for its own expensive study, which predicted exactly what would happen if growth stopped, and surely they had to realize it would happen one day. They had no plan for that day, no way to pay for these projects. The result is that current business owners, already struggling to hang on, are left to pay for huge water projects that were built to encourage even more ridiculous and unsustainable growth.

What about the third-straw project, the one that extends SNWA's reach out into the deepest part of the lake? Isn't that where the first straw should have gone, not the third? Bad planning again, and extra bad planning to believe that a construction project of that complexity would run into no problems along the way and wouldn't need more public dollars.

So now we come to the greatest boondoggle of all -- the water grab. If you like what a $3 billion debt has done to your water bills, Mr. Businessman, then brace yourself for the bill you will get once they start spending $15 billion on the proposed water grab/pipeline project. It is ridiculous to even contemplate, and yet, every day, your water agencies are spending big piles of dough to pave the way for the pipeline. Every day, year after year, dollar after dollar.

Still, SNWA will tell you that we have no choice. The water grab is our only option. It is the only option because that is the only option they have studied and promoted. There are other options, but they have never been given a fair shake because someone decided early on that this is the only way to go. It's as if someone in power has an uncle in the pipe-building business.

Residential water customers might be breathing a sigh of relief, but shouldn't. The burden for all this spending is about to be spread around. Heck, there's even a new subcommittee of a larger committee all ready to study how to resolve the mess. Watch your back, homeowners. It's coming your way.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at gknapp [at]
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