There’s so much rich material in Henry Brean’s exit interview of Pat Mulroy, the outgoing head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, that I barely know where to begin, but let’s start with water pricing.
Mulroy makes clear (as she always has) that she viewed it as her responsibility to deliver the water the community said it needed, at the cheapest price possible, and she described her legacy as this:
Nobody ever was slowed down, hampered or in anyway obstructed from building wherever they wanted to build in the valley, and that was a Herculean effort. We kept this valley going during its most phenomenal growth spurt. I mean when I started, the valley had less than 600,000 people in it. Today it has 2 million.
As Brean noted in the interview, there are people who don’t view this as a particularly good thing, to which Mulroy responded:
You can’t control growth through your utilities….
Why me? Go talk to the governor. Go talk to the elected officials. You know? I’m willing to be the bad guy on any number of things, but there are some things I’m not willing to be the bad guy on.
We’ve always come at it from, “OK, if this is where you want to be, this is what you’re going to have to do to get there.” That’s our job. You want this community to grow and you want it to prosper. All right, then you’re going to have to pay to build facilities to bring in additional water, you’re going to have to start using less per capita to stretch what you have and you’re going to have to actively get into long-term resource planning. If you’re willing to do those things, then you can have what you want.
And what is the role of water pricing in all this?
I am a big believer that when you pay your water bill, you’re not paying for the resource. What you’re paying for is having it treated and pumped to your home so that it’s readily available to you. You’re paying for the facilities. And I will always believe that you should never charge more than you actually have to in order to deliver safe, reliable water to your customers when they need it.
To which Peter Gleick responded:
.@jfleck Gleick on water pricing: You should never charge less than you have to to encourage efficient use and protect ecosystem values.
— Peter Gleick (@PeterGleick) February 3, 2014
She didn’t need to be a bad guy; she needed to be a manager who advised land developers on how far they could go without endangering everyone else.