Meet Pat Mulroy, Southern Nevada’s water champion

Southern Nevada Water Authority President, and champion of a water pipeline that would deliver water pumped from White Pine County to the valley, Pat Mulroy stands in a replica of a pipe used to deliver water.

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Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Las Vegas Water District, had a lot more to talk about during a chat where the topics of the Springs Preserve and the high-rent, LEED-certified building the organization uses were broached:

What’s the plan for the Springs Preserve?

We’ve totally retooled the Springs Preserve and our numbers keep going up constantly. We’ve reprogrammed it, we’ve reassigned staff to the times that people use it. I think that like all new facilities—like when you move into a new home—it takes a while for you to get used to your new home and how you live in it. The same thing happened at the preserve. I’m extremely encouraged by the numbers of people that are coming there. We’ve had some phenomenal turnout. It’s going well.

Did the authority alienate locals by charging high admission prices when it first opened?

You know, that was such a lose-lose proposition. It didn’t matter what we did, somebody was going to be upset with us. Had we said, “We’ll pay for the full cost of the preserve and you don’t have to pay anything,” oh my heavens, we would have been tarred and feathered by the people that felt that the users need to pay. We did it the other way and people were upset about it. I think the unfortunate thing that happened was that the economy started tanking at the same time as the preserve was starting to emerge. So we lowered the rates. Now, we’re negotiating with the state so they can open the state museum and have one ticket price. I think all those things are making a big difference.

There have been reports that the Springs Preserve is a $10 million-a-year drain on the Water District. Is the good will and public relations of the Springs Preserve worth the money?

It’s a community gathering place. It’s no different from a large regional park. Public money supports regional parks. It’s part of our culture as Americans. There isn’t a museum in this country that doesn’t receive public-dollar subsidies. That’s the way it is. We have a very active foundation that’s bringing in more and more private money into the venture. So I think you’re going to start seeing that shift and more of a balance from the private side. But it’s a public facility.

It’s part of creating that next generation of culture in Southern Nevada. It’s like the Smith Center. It’s something the community has always needed and it wasn’t there. We had 180 acres that was the birthplace of Las Vegas and it was one of those few sites in this community that went untouched by bureaucratic neglect, quite honestly. We had proposals to make it into a golf course, we had proposals to expand the (Meadows) mall over into that area. We needed something that was compatible with our well field and our facilities out there. But if you have the birthplace of Las Vegas on your property, do you now want to celebrate that place?

One of the problems in making conservation come to life in Southern Nevada was a community needs to take ownership of its community and have a sense of place before they’re willing to make the changes and really buy into the future of that community. We had nothing that really that gave anybody that sense of place. The Strip is virtual reality. That’s not a sense of place. It’s wonderful—you can go from Tuscany to Egypt in a block. But it’s not Las Vegas. It’s not where the Paiutes were. It’s not where the Anasazis were. It’s not where Las Vegas found its origins. And people like that sense of roots.

If you go to Phoenix, you instantly get a sense of their past. If you go to Albuquerque or Santa Fe or even Colorado, you get a sense of what their roots are. This place didn’t have that. It grew so fast and in such a fabulous, diverse way on the Strip that that was a missing element. And that element I’ll always feel passionately was something that was needed in this community, and I think future generations will appreciate and enjoy it.

In light of the authority’s conservation philosophy, it makes sense to be supportive of LEED-certified buildings and all the green features they have. But how difficult is it to reconcile the expense of leasing space in a place like the Molasky Building downtown?

It won’t always be that way, I think, especially on the energy side, as energy prices continue to have to go up because of the insatiable demand of our civilization for energy—everything is dependent upon energy. All our technology, our whole way of life, all of our transportation, it’s all dependent on energy and we’re gravitating more toward that rather than away from it. You know, you put in electric cars instead of gas-powered cars. What does that do to the grid? As those prices continue to go up, I think that differentiation is going to start getting muted because the areas that just bleed cool and heat from there are going to become more expensive to heat and cool.

But I do have one issue with the whole LEED matter. LEED, nationally, has one fundamental problem. They have the one-size-fits-all approach. They’ve not reached a level of sophistication to where they create regional LEED standards that really make more sense in the particular community that they’re in. My biggest gripe with that is this notion of individual reuse, which is huge as part of the LEED certification. We reuse as a community, so everything that hits the sewer system is treated and reused. You gain nothing by individually reusing except you really start running into water quality issues and, quite frankly, if the systems aren’t maintained, public health issues.

Look at a community’s particulars and create a LEED standard for that particular area which really makes the most sense for that area. Don’t say what works for, say, Burlington, VT, works for Las Vegas. It just doesn’t. We’re way too diverse, our precipitation patterns are different, our water systems are different. LEED needs to move to that next generation.

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