Entsminger appointed to head Las Vegas Water District

In more than 20 years as water czar, Pat Mulroy has developed a reputation for getting what she wants.

On Tuesday, she was handed what could be her final victory when the Clark County Commission unanimously approved her handpicked successor without opening the post to other candidates.

John Entsminger, current deputy general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, will take over the top job at the valley’s largest water utility when Mulroy departs on Feb. 6.

The commission’s vote sets the stage for Entsminger, 42, to also take her place as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the region’s wholesale water supplier.

“I think the board did the right thing,” Mulroy said Tuesday morning. “This is a very difficult time on the (Colorado) River. John understands the complexities. I think John will do a fantastic job.”

Entsminger went to work for the water district and the authority straight out of law school at the University of Colorado in June 1999. He was eventually promoted to deputy general counsel for both agencies, and he served as lead negotiator on a series of national and international agreements that secured more water for Nevada from the Colorado River.

Mulroy named him to her executive team as deputy general manager in early 2010. When she announced her retirement last year, she quickly identified him as the best choice to replace her.

Entsminger sees his selection for the top job as an endorsement of the good work the district and the authority have done over the past two decades, especially on the Colorado, where he believes Southern Nevada has gained more at the negotiating table than any other region.

“I’m honored by the trust the board is placing in me,” he said.

Asked how his approach to water policy might differ from Mulroy’s, he said: “Philosophically Pat and I are very much aligned. The question going forward is which projects do we need to secure the water supply for the community.”

The biggest and most controversial project on the table is the authority’s decades-old plan to siphon groundwater from four rural valleys in eastern Nevada and send it to Las Vegas through a pipeline network expected to cost as much as $15 billion.

The idea has drawn loud opposition — and ongoing legal challenges — from critics who complain that it will cost too much, ravage the environment and fail to deliver as much water as authority officials promise.

Entsminger has done a great deal of work on behalf of what the agency calls its “in-state project,” and he said Tuesday that he has no plans to kill it, though he views it as “absolutely a Plan B.” If the water keeps dropping in Lake Mead, source for about 90 percent of the valley’s supply, the authority will have little choice but to pursue a backup source separate from the Colorado River, he said.

As little as a few days ago, it looked like a fight was brewing over Entsminger’s appointment, with some calling for the job to be opened up for a nationwide search and others questioning the need to fill Mulroy’s job so quickly.

County Commissioner Larry Brown also stirred things up by expressing interest in the job, only to withdraw from consideration Monday.

In the end, though, Entsminger won easy approval from the entire commission, including Brown, who was cleared by county legal staff to cast a vote.

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow got things started by reading a lengthy statement in support of Entsminger and the need to fill Mulroy’s job quickly to avoid any setbacks in ongoing water negotiations, response to the drought or the district’s bond rating.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani echoed Scow’s support. She said there have been times when she was the lone vote in favor of conducting an outside search for job candidates, but “there are times when you have that expertise (in house) and you use that expertise.”

The only opposition came from the audience. Before the vote, Rob Mrowka and Ed Uehling, both frequent critics of Las Vegas water officials, called on commissioners to conduct a national search and hire a fresh leader to chart a new course for the district.

“Like the power brokers who enthroned her 24 years ago, Ms. Mulroy proposes a coronation for her favorite son,” said Mrowka, a local conservationist and staunch opponent of the pipeline project. “Demand that a full recruitment and selection process be used. Let the bright sun of openness shine into the dark reaches of the water dynasty.”

After Entsminger’s enthusiastic selection, Uehling dismissed the move as a “rubber stamp” of the worst kind.

Tuesday’s vote was nearly delayed by a technical question about the posting of the agenda. In the end, the commissioners decided to go ahead with the water district meeting and come back later this month to reaffirm any decisions they made, just in case.

Entsminger’s appointment to oversee the water authority could come on Jan. 16 with a vote of that agency’s board, which includes three county commissioners and one city council member each from Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Boulder City.

Entsminger is currently the No. 2 man at the authority as well.

His new employment contract with the district is expected to come back to the commission for approval next month, after it has been negotiated.

He said he doesn’t anticipate any problems with the contract talks.

Mulroy is paid $279,154 a year, plus benefits, to manage both the authority and the district.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter at @RefriedBrean.