…a very understandable position as according to Pat Mulroy “cooperation” is like beauty … defined in the eyes of the beholder…
Memo to Mulroy: Transboundary Cooperation Begins at Home
Imagine my surprise when I saw this Twitter feed from the Singapore International Water Week last week:
I had to drop everything and read it, since ‘cooperation’ and ‘Pat Mulroy’ in the same sentence struck me as contradictory, although she has become more conciliatory in recent years. In fact, my initial reaction was ‘WTF’? So I found what she meant by ‘transboundary cooperation’ – US-Mexico.
What are some examples of stakeholders who can be obstructive?
There are [US] states where the culture is much more combative and whose leadership wants to pontificate more than they want to find answers. The same holds true in the environmental community. You have environmental groups that have a business model of going to court. That’s how they pay their people, because judges will award legal fees every single time. That’s not the environmental group you can put at the table to find common solutions. [Note: I didn’t know you ‘put’ groups at the table. I guess that is how they do it in Las Vegas.]
The world has changed. It’s changed economically; it’s tied together climatically. What the US recognized [was] that Mexico has no ability to prepare for cutbacks on the Colorado River delivery level. And so the exchange was – Mexico, we know that you need a place to store water. If you will conserve water early, through on-farm improvements, through lining canals, through conservation efforts, then we will let you store that water in Lake Mead and use it as a cushion when you start taking cutbacks.
What are the benefits to the parties in this transboundary water cooperation between the US and Mexico?
The US benefits in two ways. One in that Mexico will now take shortages at the same elevations that we the US take shortages. Second, during this period when the drought is deepening, all of us are buying water and sticking it in Lake Mead, so today Lake Mead is ten feet higher than it would normally be. The other advantage goes to the environment.
What are the environment benefits that will arise from the extra water stored in Lake Mead?
There are a couple of environmental groups, most notably the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and Sonoran Institute, that are going to help pay for those on-farm improvements in Mexico. Now the water in Lake Mead will be used for experimental releases to the delta. So when you look at the entirety of this, it was a pretty amazing combination of benefits that accrued to everybody.
I love it that Mulroy talks about the ‘combative culture’ of some US states. Terrible! And those environmental groups that don’t want to find solutions? Perhaps they are combative and obstructive because they don’t fall into line behind the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s approach to water supply – that of constructing a pipeline to bring rural groundwater to Las Vegas.
But I could not help but wonder at the narrow view of the term ‘transboundary cooperation’ shared by Mulroy (and likely the SIWW and many other water people). ‘Transboundary’ does not always equal ‘transnational’ but can refer to cooperation across all political boundaries, whether they be international, interstate, or intrastate. It can even refer to non-geographic or non-political boundaries, such as those between different cultures, ways of life, etc.
Given that more expansive definition of ‘transboundary’ I would say that Mulroy fails when it comes to ‘transboundary cooperation’. If you don’t think so, you might ask the rural Nevada residents who don’t fancy the groundwater in their valleys being pumped to fuel Las Vegas’ growth, or the state of Utah, which takes umbrage at the possibility some of its Snake Valley groundwater heading to Utah.
As negotiations took months, then years, Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy became so incensed by what she regarded as an Utahan “veto” on the Las Vegas pipeline that in 2006 she threatened the editorial board of the Salt Lake Tribune. The longer Utah delayed approval of Las Vegas’ water withdrawals from Snake Valley, she said, “the more uncomfortable it will become for Utah. If they can do it to another state, they can have it done to them, too.”
Mulroy proceeded to file protests with the Utah Department of Natural Resources on Utahan groundwater applications within Beaver and Iron counties.
Cooperation? With Mexico, perhaps. Other Nevadans and Utah? Not so much.
And the spin machine rolls on…
“…singularly most stupid idea anyone ever had…” – Pat Mulroy, talking about the pipeline to bring rural groundwater to Las Vegas (High Country News, 1994; see this article)
“People don’t understand water.” — Pat Mulroy, quoted in The Big Thirst
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