For decades, Nevada’s unofficial official motto has been “growth begets growth”. We were told that whatever suits the “growth industrial complex” is whatever we must do. And for the longest time, we were told that there’s no such thing as “too much development”.
Now that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, we need to address not just when we can safely reopen for business, but also how we approach growth and development going forward.
“If we can take care of the conservation, we’re not going to need to worry about new sources of water for decades to come.”
– SNWA General Manager John Entsminger, in December 2018
Since we’ve been “staying home for Nevada” for the last six weeks, I won’t begrudge you for missing this news. Earlier this month, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) finally announced it would not appeal the latest state court ruling denying SNWA the right to transfer 91,000 acre feet of water annually from Eastern Nevada (and potentially Western Utah) to the Las Vegas Valley.
For some of you who have been following our water coverage for some time, this may not come as all that much of a surprise. After all, at two consecutive Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) conferences, SNWA officials tacitly admitted that Clark County really doesn’t need the Eastern Nevada pipeline to stay hydrated. In December 2018, SNWA General Manager John Entsminger told us, “When you live in the driest state in the union, everything is on the table […] But again, if we can take care of the conservation, we’re not going to need to worry about new sources of water for decades to come.”
Then in December 2019, SNWA Director of Water Resources Colby Pellegrino walked us through SNWA’s current resources and the conservation measures meant to maximize their utility. To sum it all up, Pellegrino declared, “We’re a community that only uses 280,000 acre feet of water today and we still have another 130,000 acre feet if we do all this conservation. I’m feeling really good about the water resource projection in this community, and our ability to meet water resource needs long-term.”
Do these sound like statements from officials who fear the Las Vegas metro region will thirst to death if they can’t build the roughly 300 mile long pipeline? As The Nevada Independent’s Daniel Rothberg reminded everyone last week, SNWA is not withdrawing its water transfer applications. Still, SNWA’s retreat from the state court lawsuit offers further confirmation that the pipeline almost certainly won’t happen any time soon, and that Southern Nevada is probably better off “staying water smart” than searching for any one “deus ex-machina” to magically rush water into the desert.
How exactly are we “taking care of the conservation”?
During our conversation with Colby Pellegrino at CRWUA last December, we got into the details of SNWA’s conservation programs, including turf restrictions for new homes and xeriscaping rules for business and industrial parks. And when I asked about local policymakers factoring climate science into their urban planning, Pellegrino responded, “It’s not how much we grow, or how many more people we grow, or how much more land we grow. It’s how we develop that land that matters.”
And yet, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) had to step in and significantly revise Clark County’s proposed public lands bill in January, after local environmentalists sounded alarms over the county eyeing just over 296,000 acres of federal public lands for new development. (Cortez Masto’s draft pares that figure down to just over 42,000 acres while providing new protections to just over 353,000 acres.) Meanwhile up north, Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks went back to the drawing board last month following sustained local opposition to the county’s proposed rollbacks of protected wilderness lands.
Even now, we’re still seeing a rush to develop… And not just develop, but develop more of the kind of suburban and exurban sprawl that strains our water resources, adds to road and freeway traffic, and exacerbates the climate crisis.
“Growth begets growth”, pandemic edition
Last week, the entire world watched as Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman denied the science behind COVID-19 and proposed to offer Las Vegas city residents as a “control group” to test “herd immunity” theory. Over the weekend, The Nevada Independent obtained Las Vegas city emails that offer greater insight into Goodman’s insistence on reopening en masse at any and all costs, as well as paying greater attention to political actors like former Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison (R) than scientific experts who are warning federal, state, and local policymakers not to let up on social distancing too soon.
For outside observers, it was shocking to watch a big city mayor deny science and offer up her own constituents for a dangerous experiment. But for those of us who’ve grown accustomed to state and local officials who’ve regularly pursued “growth at any and all costs”, this sadly wasn’t all that surprising.
After all, Clark and Washoe Counties had to be publicly pressured into shelving their respective public lands bill drafts earlier this year. Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the City of Las Vegas was pursuing a criminal crackdown on the Downtown homeless population to boost prospects for further gentrification.
Even now, in the midst of the pandemic, the state has allowed construction of Allegiant (Raiders) Stadium to continue, even as two construction workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and as the NFL has yet to detail how it intends to guarantee worker safety with a full schedule of football games this fall. And if that’s not enough, the City of Henderson is rushing ahead to borrow $60 million to fund general obligation bonds to use towards conversion of Henderson Pavilion into an arena for the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate team while most of the rest of the city remains shuttered for obvious reasons.
We need more than just growth. We need maturity.
For the last two years, we’ve been asking when Nevada’s elected and “business community” leaders will grow up and acknowledge the truth behind their “growth begets growth” reassurances. While Nevada has taken some positive steps in recent years by beginning to transition the state away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, we can’t just expect renewable energy to power anything and everything under the sun. We also have to assess how much energy we consume and how much energy we might waste by developing more sprawl.
Now, more than ever, we need to think about more than just growth. We also need to figure out maturity. Eventually, we will begin to reopen businesses and general society. However, we can not afford to return to “growth as usual”. We need to show more maturity in how we develop into the future.
If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health District, Washoe County Health District, Carson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.