Tuesday, March 12, 2013

#NVLeg Sets Sights on SNWA

In October 2011, we were surprised to see Clark County agree to give Pat Mulroy regular job reviews. Apparently, that's not enough oversight for a growing number of state lawmakers. They want to see more.

Last spring, SNWA faced enormous backlash over its water rate increases. It had been a long and tough slog for environmentalists to get Southern Nevadans to care about the fate of the rural agrarian community and ecosystem of Snake Valley. But when SNWA rammed through a plan to pay for its proposed Snake Valley pipeline by disproportionately raising water rates on working class families and small businesses while bailing out the region's biggest water wasters, Mulroy has been in the hot seat ever since.

So now, we have this.

[Senator Michael] Roberson’s [R-Henderson] bill would require the SNWA to obtain approval from the Public Utilities Commission, a three-member board appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, for any water rate increase on business or commercial customers of the utility.

The bill also would require the Public Utilities Commission to appoint a hearing officer to investigate the need for a proposed rate increase and issue a decision approving or declining the rate increase.

“Many in the Southern Nevada community believe the process failed to allow an adequate opportunity for public input,” Roberson said in a statement. “Southern Nevada residents and businesses will likely face future significant rate increases. This legislation will ensure that those rate increases occur in as fair and equitable manner as possible in a completely open process.”

Mulroy testified this past week that there was “massive public outreach” about the rate increases in 2012.

Roberson’s bill has support from Sens. David Parks, D-Las Vegas; Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka; Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas; Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas; Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas; James Settelmeyer, R-Minden; Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson; Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City; and Mark Hutchinson, R-Las Vegas.

So much for that "massive public outreach". SB 232 has attracted broad bipartisan support in Carson City so far. Rural Senators concerned about the impact of the Snake Valley pipeline on their communities and Clark County lawmakers angered over last year's rate increases may very well succeed in the first real challenge to the previously unchecked power of Mulroy and SNWA.

In years past, SNWA was able to cry "DROUGHT!" to silence critics demanding more accountability. That may not work this time. Last year, SNWA actually removed incentives for water conservation. And last November, SNWA reached a historic Colorado River water sharing agreement with several other Southwestern states and Mexico.

Now yes, Nevada is facing a real drought. We have climate change to thank for that. And we can't ignore the challenges that lie ahead with climate change and continuing drought. But really, how does stealing water from one region to fuel unnecessary real estate development in another region help? And how on earth can one justify repealing water conservation incentives?

So perhaps SNWA does need some more oversight. That's why the above mentioned legislators are coalescing behind SB 232. And that's why Pat Mulroy is running a bit more scared these days.

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