Pat Mulroy on Lake Mead, water scarcity, and climate change


Pat Mulroy headed the Southern Nevada Water Authority from its inception in 1991 to 2014, when she retired. She transformed Las Vegas water usage. All indoor water is reclaimed and recycled. Home watering is done on a strictly enforced schedule. SNWA will help defray the cost of xeriscaping with the proviso that it never can be transformed back. One result of this is Strip casinos, with 40 million visitors a year, have a very small net water usage.

“The entire Las Vegas strip, with the fountains and 40 million tourists a year that come through, as their net water footprint, they use 3-4 percent of all the water. So, everything that is used inside of those hotels is captured, treated, and reused, either indirectly or directly,” says Mulroy.

She firmly believes climate change is happening and water is a basic right. However, that basic right does not include having it delivered clean and potable to your home or business without everyone helping pay for the massive infrastructure. For Las Vegas, this includes a giant tunnel being drilled under the lake to function like a bathtub drain so Vegas always has water, unless Lake Mead goes dry, which it won’t.

Mulroy believes that “water is a basic human right because you need it in order to live. But what you don’t have a basic human right to is that that water is pumped from great depths in Lake Mead, treated to a very safe standard, and then pumped 2500 feet to your front door to where all you have to do is turn on the tap. That infrastructure costs money.” However, Mulroy argues that “we need to identify ourselves as citizens of the watershed,” and argues that “if you want it treated and delivered at your house on a guaranteed 24/7 basis, then you have an obligation to help defray those infrastructure and operating costs.”

Mulroy is now a senior fellow at The Brookings Institure, where she made this video.

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