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Knapp: The water monster returns!

Holy crap, people. Circle the wagons. Head for the hills. Hide the women and children, because trouble is on the way. Death, destruction, despair, a disaster of biblical proportions. Pestilence. Disease, calamity, outbreaks of halitosis, the heartbreak of psoriasis, and periodic episodes of the conniption fits. Basically, we’re all going to die.


And in case you don’t believe that, how about disaster, earthquakes, a bad moon rising, the heavens falling, bubonic plague, asteroid strikes, the Walking Dead, not to mention dogs and cats living together. I’m telling you, it’s bad.

Don’t look now, but the boogeyman is back, the big, scary water monster who gets trotted out every few months or so to scare the bejeezus out of everyone and to squeeze a few more dollars out of your wallet.

The water bosses were at their theatrical best last week, wailing and moaning about the terrible drought that somehow sneaked up on us. It’s a “natural disaster … as extreme an event as (Hurricane) Sandy,” proclaimed stern-faced water boss Pat Mulroy, a situation that will require “a major Noah’s Ark-type event” to change. It’s a “grim milestone,” the newspapers declared. “The water shortage has reached a critical stage,” the TV reporters warned.

Water shortage? What water shortage? Every person who is reading this newspaper can turn on their faucet and leave it on for as long as they like. You could turn on the sprinkler and let it run for days. You could take 30-minute showers five times a day, and still the water will flow. The only consequence is that your bill will go through the roof.

If we were truly in the grips of a crisis or disaster, as the water bosses keep telling us, then why did they eliminate the entire staff that goes after water-wasters? Try to report a water-waster sometime and see how long it takes to simply leave a recorded message on the phone of someone who has no personnel to follow it up anyway. If they really thought we were in a dire situation, wouldn’t they crack down on water usage, especially water waste? We all heard the gloom and doom last week, but did anyone announce a plan to prepare for the seemingly inevitable, latest and greatest end of the world that is reportedly coming next year when the lake drops below level 1,075? Anyone hear about those plans?

No. You did not. You did not hear about any such plan of action because they prefer to keep you scared and needy, ready to pack the wife and kids into a Conestoga and head for Oregon. When the locals are frightened by visions of their loved ones dying of thirst in a barren land, they are much more susceptible to persuasion … and bullshit.

The same pompous knuckleheads who have mismanaged our water resources for decades are now asking for piles of new money so we can barely escape the next disaster. And that’s just the warmup for the really big money grab still to come, the $15 billion dollar bamboozle of a pipeline project that will surely be like Christmas every day for preferred contractors and consultants.

Anyone who tells you that “no one could have seen a drought like this one coming” is either lying or incompetent or both, because lots of people — hydrologists and actual water experts — did see it coming. I am staring at the cover of Time from July 21, 1991. The issue focused on “America’s Most Endangered River.” Hydrologists were already well aware that the Colorado River was in trouble, and for a very simple, inescapable reason — the Southwest has too many people using too much water in a land that has always been prone to extended drought.

No one could have seen this coming, eh? I’m looking at a scientific paper published in the mid ‘90s in which experts had studied tree-ring records dating back 500 years, records that proved beyond any doubt that drought in the Colorado River basin is the norm, not the exception, and that previous droughts have been known to last as long as 19 years.

I can remember having this very conversation back in the early 2000s with the same water officials who run the show today, and they scoffed at the tree-ring studies as being insignificant. One of them laughed at the suggestion that Las Vegas would ever have to slow down its growth rate because of water. The idea seemed ridiculous, even though, at the time, we had already been in a drought for three years. They didn’t know, or they didn’t want to know?

The water bosses have always done whatever it takes to keep the growth machine going. They are more than just enablers, though — they are full-fledged partners. They ignored global climate change and the prospects of extended drought for years, and then had the bright idea that by embracing climate change, they would have a new reason to build their rural pipeline and thus keep the growth machine humming. And so here we are, again, facing disaster. Again.

A Channel 8 colleague of mine, Nathan Baca, was reminded last week of a previous dire warning issued by the water honchos almost three years ago to the day. The spokesperson warned in hushed tones about how things were really serious out at the lake because the water level was at 1,082, and that thank goodness the third straw would be ready to go by 2013 to keep us all from dying. Last week, when all the gloom and doom pronouncements were flying, the level at the lake was 30 feet higher than the figure they spouted three years ago.

As for that third straw, who was the bright bulb who figured it would be a piece of cake to build a pipe out to the deep part of the lake, a project that might be done by 2014 and is millions over budget? And why did we wait until we needed a third straw before putting one out in the deep part of the lake so that when water levels drop, we would still have water? Who’s calling the shots, anyway? Is it Larry or Curly?

The only meaningful water conservation measure that has been enacted is the voluntary removal of turf from your lawn. No one has said we are mandated to cut down on indoor water use. No one has said you can’t fill your pool or water your garden or wash your car with a garden hose. No one has even dared to think that maybe we should slow down on more development. That would be a sacrilege.

Until you hear our water officials talk about implementing actual plans for cutting water use, and until they get serious about long-term alternatives such as desalinization plants, then you might want to take their gloom-and-doom boogeyman stories with a big grain of salt because, believe me, you will get to hear the same routine again in the months and years ahead. Boogety-boogety.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8.