Never mind that for the second year in a row, snowpack feeding the upper Colorado River is over 100% of normal, Bloomberg News has penned a comprehensive article about water drought in the Southwestern United States. It’s the first mention in the mainstream media of the immense wealth held by the Southern Nevada Water Authority:
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is about halfway through a 30-year, $8.3 billion construction campaign. Last year, 57 percent of the money for it came from a $6,310 fee to hook up new homes. The Las Vegas real estate slump is so severe that total hookup collections dropped to $61.5 million last year from $188.4 million in 2006. Mulroy says the authority actually lost money on hookups in January because of refunds to developers who abandoned construction projects.
As a result, reserves in the construction fund dropped 6 percent in the first six weeks of 2009, to $480 million. Without those reserves, Mulroy says, she couldn’t assure investors the authority would be able to repay the $500 million in bonds she plans to start selling by early fall to complete the Lake Mead project. The authority had $3.9 billion in liabilities on June 30.
The authority also gets money from water deliveries, property taxes and fees from federal land sales. If she has to protect the reserves, Mulroy says, she’ll raise water rates, which total about $21 a month for a single-family home.
She’s asked fellow Nevadan Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader, for a federal guarantee on the bonds. Reid is exploring how to help big municipal water systems, including Mulroy’s, get easier access to credit, spokesman Jon Summers says.
In February, Mulroy presented such a dire description of the authority’s finances to the Nevada legislature that Jerry Claborn, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, told her, “You’ll have to do like you did years ago: rub two sticks together.”
Mulroy said afterward she wanted to quash any notion that cash-strapped legislators could appropriate her reserves for some other purpose.
In mainstream media tradition, the reporters got it wrong. The Water Authority has $3.9-billion in assets and $2.4-billion in liabilities, leaving a net worth of $1.5-billion – a half billion of that in cash. And they let Mulroy get away with claiming that she’s “tried everything” to get water, thus her environmentally ruinous plan to drain Lincoln and White Pine Counties.
What’s not been tried is a serious effort at buying water from downstream water right owners on the Colorado River. That makes a great deal of sense because we already own the infrastructure to draw it into Las Vegas, via the water intake system on Lake Mead. Billions of unneccesary construction could be saved, but sometimes the Water Authority seems to try so hard to ignore this common-sense solution that one wonders if there is political (or even financial) gain in spending billions on the pipeline.