“Quenching Las Vegas’ thirst”

That’s the title of a series of five articles that appeared in the Las Vegas Sun in 2008, concerning that city’s water crisis. They tell a sordid tale of urban sprawl, city, State and national politics, corruption, horse-trading, and wilful disregard of the facts in a brazen attempt to grab water belonging to and/or important for others.

Here’s an excerpt from the first article in the series, to whet your appetite.

Two decades ago a freshman Nevada congressman went calling on a cattle rancher in Northern Nevada. What would it take, Representative Harry Reid asked, for the rancher to sign off on plans to create a national park nearby.

It was a bold question. Officials had tried and failed for 60 years to win the support of ranchers to create Great Basin National Park. Now this new congressman was trying?

Indeed, he was sitting at rancher Dean Baker’s kitchen table in 1985, waiting for a reply.

You’ll have to protect our water, Baker said.

The Great Basin aquifer, which sweeps underneath the great parched desert of Southern Nevada, burbles to the surface up north, outside Ely, where Baker and other ranchers have lived for generations. Without water, their livelihood would end.

To Baker’s delight, Reid agreed. The water would be protected.

Reid and Baker met again 20 years later. The years had been kind to them. With water guaranteed, Baker was a wealthy man. Reid had moved up to the Senate and was on the verge of becoming majority leader, one of the most powerful posts in the nation.

The occasion of their meeting in July 2005 was the dedication of a new visitor center for the park the two men had had a hand in creating. But things had changed.

Las Vegas was in year six of a fierce drought. The booming town had nearly exhausted its allotment of water from Lake Mead. Soon, if nothing was done, Las Vegas, the economic engine that drives the state, wouldn’t have enough water to support growth.

So on this day, Reid asked Baker: “What are your water rights?”

Translation: Las Vegas needs your water.

Harry Reid and Dean Baker became adversaries.

How had it come to this? A thriving region of nearly 2 million people was running out of water even as the mighty Colorado River flowed just 30 miles away. What trick of geology and climate forced Las Vegas, a city with no reason to exist except for its historical ingenuity and daring, to go to survival mode once more?

There’s more at the link.

If you want a classic example of the nastier side of ‘democracy in action’, I can’t think of a better one than this. I highly recommend you read all five articles, plus the other articles linked beneath them. Even if you don’t live in Nevada, the dirty politics involved will make your gorge rise – and don’t think for a moment that similarly dirty politics don’t affect every other state in the Union. I’ve never seen a better reason for smaller government, and for a long overdue cleanup of the sewer that is politics in this country.



  1. Water flows uphill towards money. That's the first axion of hydrology in the American west. Teh second is "I'd rather be at the head of the ditch with a shovel than at the foot of the ditch with a decree [court order]."


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