I-Team: Water Boss Pat Mulroy Plans to Retire - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Water Boss Pat Mulroy Plans to Retire

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LAS VEGAS -- One of Nevada's most powerful political figures is calling it quits. Longtime water boss Pat Mulroy has told elected officials she will step down after the end of this year.

Mulroy has been at the helm of the Las Vegas Valley Water District for almost 25 years, and also the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority since it was created in 1991. She's been the driving force behind a plan to create a gigantic network of wells and pipelines to tap rural groundwater.

In the desert, water is power, and for more than two decades, Mulroy controlled the water, which meant she has been considered one of the two or three most powerful people in the state, far more influential than the elected officials who supposedly oversaw her agencies.

Her departure will leave a huge vacuum and has many wondering whether her signature project, the rural pipeline, will continue without her.

"Over the last 20 years, I have absolutely matured in how I view this. One of the things that made me so angry is that for eight years, we just denied that global warming existed, and climate change existed," Mulroy said in an interview in 2009.

It was the last time Mulroy agreed to talk to the I-Team. Since then, reports focusing on her extravagant foreign travel, generous salary packages for employees, and lucrative contracts for an army of lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations consultants prompted her to cut off contact.

But despite occasional media criticism, she has been a dominant force in Nevada's political and economic landscape, largely the result of her keen intellect and powerful personality.

The board of the water authority, made up of elected officials, is supposed to give policy direction to Mulroy and her agencies. Instead. It's been the other way around. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, one of the few elected officials willing to challenge Mulroy's ferocious reputation, is not entirely surprised by the decision to step down.

"She stressed to me that the time has come. I'm not sure there is ever a right time or a wrong time to make this type of change. Also not sure if it is a cumulative thing or one issue. She told me the time has come and she is ready to move in another direction," Sisolak said.

Sisolak thinks a combination of factors played into Mulroy's decision to leave. First, her husband has serious health issues. Second, is eroding support in the business community, which has complained about rate hikes, more of which are coming this week. Third, that the bills are finally coming due for all sorts of expensive capital projects, including the third straw, but the money available to Mulroy's agencies has dried up, and finally, the costs of uncontrolled growth combined with climate change are now pretty obvious, no where more so than at shrinking Lake Mead.

"Things have changed in the last couple of years. I'm sure it is not as much fun. We are facing enormous challenges. How to balance significant rate increases, at a time when the lake keeps going down, and there's no permanent solution," Sisolak said.

For the past 10 years or so, the focus of Mulroy's considerable talents has been the rural groundwater plan, a $15 billion proposal to siphon vast amounts of water from rural Nevada. Environmentalists say it will create a vast dead zone. Ranchers, Indian tribes, and rural communities have strengthened their opposition to the plan. The state if Utah has joined the opposition. Long legal battles are a certainty.

Does Mulroy's departure mean her project will die too? Environmentalist Rob Mrowka, a frequent Mulroy critic, says her departure could be a "stake in the heart of the pipeline" and that it seems like Mulroy "has realized the strategic error of her ways."

Another critic, activist and journalist Launce Rake said, "It's not the end of the pipeline scheme. The potential profit for contractors and financiers is too big to leave on the table."

It might depend on who her successor is, but since Mulroy is the only chief the water authority has ever had, its not exactly clear how that process will work.

"I don't have a clue. She's been in both positions for as long as I have been here, as long as I can remember," Sisolak said.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid said, Mulroy has been "as important to Nevada as anyone in the last two decades" and called her an unparalleled leader. Reid had suggested Mulroy as a candidate for Secretary of the Interior months ago, but she did not get the call from the president. She has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for offices including governor or Congress.

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