Any day now, the BLM will release its long-awaited environmental impact statement regarding the proposed rural groundwater plan, better known as the “water grab,” or, as I like to call it, Pat’s Pipeline. We can guess about what might be in the report, but the best way to gauge whether it will contain any earth-shaking news is to check the travel schedule of Pat Mulroy. That schedule is every bit as prescient as, say, tea leaves or chicken bones.
See, it seems like every time there is some huge development in the various water wars, Ms. Mulroy is galavanting around somewhere, often an exotic vacation-type destination. Even though she is the top honcho at two critical water agencies (the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority), Mulroy spends much of her time on the road instead of in her office.
It seems as if there is an important water conference somewhere in the world almost every week. Mulroy is often in demand as a speaker or panelist, or she travels to pick up awards. Who knew there were so many awards handed out to water officials? A suspicious person might wonder if these folks have worked out a rotation so that they all travel to each other’s conferences and take turns winning each other’s awards. Mulroy must have an entire room full of plaques by now. After all, Nevada’s water situation certainly seems award-worthy, right?
In 2008, for instance, Mulroy took 21 out-of-town trips (almost two per month), including visits to Singapore, Vienna and Zurich — not exactly low-rent destinations. In 2009, after vowing to cut back, Mulroy and her top deputy took 44 trips. In 2010, she still found the time for 19 jaunts.
Mulroy’s public-information staffers do an excellent job of processing media requests, and I am not being sarcastic in the least. They’re good. We have yet to receive the travel records we requested a few weeks ago, but the PIOs always emphasize that Mulroy’s travel expenses are often covered by the conferences rather than by us. That’s a good thing, but I wonder if these conferences also pick up her salary for these frequent trips. After all, she has the highest base salary of any public official in Southern Nevada: a whopping $290,000 per year. So if she’s on a five-day trip to Singapore, and if there are a dozen or more trips per year, it means the public here is shelling out a lot of dough for her awards and speeches.
The timing of these trips is sometimes not good for the home crowd. When all hell broke loose several weeks ago over the impact of the new water surcharges, Mulroy was nowhere to be seen. Local business owners let loose with both barrels, complaining that the surcharges threatened to put many of them into bankruptcy. And where was Mulroy? In Paris, according to county sources, attending another oh-so-important water conference. My guess is that the people who pay her substantial salary would have preferred that Mulroy were here to face the music instead of strolling the banks of the Seine.
That brings us back to the BLM and its much-anticipated EIS. The report is expected around Monday, Aug. 6. There is a good chance the contents will generate one hell of a response from those who think the water grab will decimate rural Nevada, which is already suffering from an extended drought. During the Bush administration, BLM and other federal agencies were essentially ordered to keep their opinions about the water grab to themselves. But under Obama, BLM has been more forthcoming about the potential devastation if the ridiculous plan to suck groundwater from rural Nevada and parts of Utah is allowed to proceed.
But there are hints that something has changed within BLM. The bureau has now come up with what it calls “Alternative F,” a plan that would take no water from politically powerful Utah, but increase the amount pumped from under four basins in Nevada.
Here’s the catch: Alternative F was never evaluated by the public. It was not presented for public comment, was not approved by the Nevada state engineer following an exhaustive study and months of public hearings. Alternative F seemingly popped into existence from nowhere. It makes people wonder if BLM has worked out some kind of deal with the politically connected Mulroy.
That’s why I am hoping to get the latest info on Mulroy’s travel plans. If it turns out that she is scheduled to be at a really, really vital water conference in, say, Rio during the week of Aug. 6, then we don’t need a crystal ball to figure that something nasty is likely to be unleashed here. My system for peering into the future may not be as reliable as remote viewing, but it has proven its worth in the past.
This time, I’d rather be wrong.
Allegations are flying about whether billionaire casino man Sheldon Adelson knowingly allowed prostitution rings to operate in his casinos in Macau as a way to make high rollers happy. Oh the shock. Oh the outrage. Hookers and gamblers? My, my. Mr. Adelson certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, but the last time I visited Macau, prostitution not only operated in the open, it was completely legal. … We reported in this space a few weeks ago about Rep. Shelley Berkley coming to the aid of Las Vegas veteran John Rodriguez, whose spine had deteriorated to the point that he could barely walk but who had been denied disability benefits from Social Security. Berkley’s office intervened and social Security said it would reconsider. Social Security has already compensated Mr. Rodriguez for the two years he’s been in bureaucratic limbo, and has also put him on a regular disability schedule. This is not welfare or a handout. It is money he already paid into the system and wanted to tap. His life has made a dramatic change for the better, thanks to Berkley’s efforts.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org