Street Talk: Water Authority Complains about Stories on Sweetheart Deal - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Commentary

Street Talk: Water Authority Complains about Stories on Sweetheart Deal

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The cafe at Springs Preserve. The cafe at Springs Preserve.

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck landed a pretty sweet deal when he agreed to open a cafe inside the Springs Preserve. Puck's 10 year agreement calls for the public to underwrite his entire operation, right down to the pots and pans, even though Springs Preserve has already is bleeding public money.

After the I-Team unveiled the details about the deal, water officials complained about mistakes in our reports, and boy are we red faced.

We aired a couple of reports earlier this month about the free spending ways of local water agencies, especially the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is spending tens of millions of public dollars each year on P.R. consultants, TV and radio ads, expensive lawyers, fat cat lobbyists, and yes, cows, sheep, and overpriced ranches.

But we made a terrible mistake when we chastised the water authority for the financial bloodbath unfolding at the Springs Preserve, which has already cost you and me hundreds of millions of dollars, continues to cost about $20 million a year, and whose financial projections are so incredibly bad, they make the monorail look good.

Officials didn't deny all of that other spending but they were pretty ticked off when we said the SNWA is responsible for Springs Preserve. An email set us straight: The SNWA (that's the water authority) is not involved in the creation and is not involved in the operation of the Springs Preserve. The Preserve is operated by the LV Valley Water District.

For all we know, the water authority doesn't even know where the Springs Preserve is located, which is true for 90% of the local population.

How in the world could we make such a dumb mistake and get those two agencies mixed up?

See, the water authority is headed up by the very capable, somewhat ferocious Pat Mulroy. I can't see how anyone could get her confused with the person in charge of the water district -- whose name also happens to be Pat Mulroy.

The public information chief at the water district who sent us the email about our error is Scott Huntley. By sheer coincidence, that is also the name of his counterpart at the water authority. Those two should talk.

Huntley, like most of his staff, works for both agencies. It's right there in their job titles.

If you were to apply for a job at the water district, for instance, you would fill out a form that essentially says the LVVWD, the SNWA, and the Springs Preserve are all one big happy family. Apply for one and you apply for all.

Whenever we ask to interview someone from the SNWA, you know where we go? The offices of the LVVWD. Ditto for public records requests.

If you look at the formal description of the two entities, it says the water district is the operating agent for the water authority and that the water authority pays most of the capital costs for the water district. In other words, the money might come from the right pocket or the left pocket, but it's public money in both of pockets.

We don't even want to mention the water council or the water coalition because there's a risk my head will explode like a popcorn kernel.

We're not the only ones who are confused. Some of the people who are supposed to oversee these folks find the distinctions a bit fuzzy. "It's extremely hard to track. The water district, the water authority, so many areas, flood control, clean water council, on and on. It's hard to differentiate," said Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak.

Commissioner Sisolak thinks the gamesmanship about which agency does what could be on purpose since it makes it harder for people like him to follow the money. But, he says, it's the same small group of insiders who call the shots, and write the checks, at all of these entities.

No matter which agency signed the sweetheart deal for Chef Wolfgang Puck, each and every one of the $610,000 paid to Puck last year to run a cafe at Springs Preserve came out of the public's pocket, in the same way the $3 to $4 million spent on building a kitchen for his cafe came from the public.

Those figures, by the way, are from Mr. Huntley at the water district, the same entity that earlier this year fired many of its workers and ordered the rest to take furlough days because money is supposedly tight.

You can call it the water district or water authority. You can call it Uncle Fester and Cousin It. The people in charge might wear different hats at times, but they're the same people spending money that all comes from the same well.

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