Matt Jenkins on Pat Mulroy

United and Conquer

Unite and Conquer

Matt Jenkins, the best journalist we’ve got covering water in the western United States, has an insightful cover story in the latest High Country News on Pat Mulroy, the recently retired head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. (Not on line yet – subscribe!)

Mulroy is known for being brash and pugnacious, but Matt gets beyond that gloss to a deeply reported picture of the former SNWA’s critical role in moving Colorado River Basin problem-solving past an age of fighting and the defense of entrenched interests to one of sometimes tense but ultimately productive collaboration.

He adeptly characterizes Mulroy’s transition from someone pushing big, Vegas-style moves, like her famous failed effort to buy water rights from west slope Colorado and her storming 2005 threat to solve the basin’s problems through litigation, to a more quiet cooperative incrementalism that has become the hallmark of current river problem solving. The key is to live within the “Law of the River” while bending it in clever ways to meet new realities:

All of the innovations since the drought began – while carefully pitched as pilot programs and interim measures – have been small advances in Mulroy’s broader initiative, launched more than two decades ago, to open up the law of the river to broader possibilities. That, in large part, is her legacy: pushing everyone into the new era of aquatic contortionism that it will take to fit everything through the knothole.

It’s an optimistic piece, the first in “Glass Half Full,” an occasional series at HCN focused on water solutions. “There’s more than enough, if we’re wise to keep the glass half full.” Yes!