For more than two decades, Pat Mulroy has served as Southern Nevada’s “water czar” and the chief protector of its meager share of the Colorado River.
On Monday she said the time has come to step aside.
“I’m just saying it’s time,” she told the Review-Journal. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time. It’s time for an orderly transition to the next generation.”
Mulroy, 60, has not set a retirement date, but she said she is “starting the process” with her sights set on a departure early in 2014.
“This town will always have its water crises, so there’s no great time to leave,” she said. “In 2000 there was about a four- month window when everything was good.”
Mulroy has served as general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the state’s largest water utility, since 1989. She took on the dual role of general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority in 1992, shortly after the regional water supplier was formed.
When she entered the contentious world of Western water politics 21 years ago, she said she was literally the only woman in the room. At her first meeting with her fellow Colorado River water managers, she said, “this nice old man tapped me on the shoulder and told me, ‘the spouses’ lounge is down the hall.’ I said, ‘Thank you, I’ll tell my husband.’ ”
Since then, she has shepherded the community through explosive growth that required billions of dollars in new infrastructure and strained its limited water supply, forcing a new focus on conservation in a place famous for excess.
Today Mulroy is the longest-tenured voice on the river, and one of the most powerful. Earlier this year, she landed on the shortlist of candidates for U.S. Secretary of Interior with a nudge from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Her quest for water for growing Las Vegas has attracted international media attention and criticism closer to home, particularly among residents of rural eastern Nevada, where Mulroy’s agency plans to tap groundwater and pipe it south. That controversial, multibillion- dollar project was initiated by the water distrtict just as Mulroy was ascending to the top job, and it continues to wend its way through the courts and the permitting process.
Clark County Commissioner and water authority board member Mary Beth Scow said the community is losing a strong leader.
“She’s kept us with water and a lot of confidence,” Scow said. “She’s been a wonderful public servant.”
Mulroy is paid $279,154 a year, plus benefits, to manage both the authority and the district, an arrangement she said saves both agencies thousands of dollars.
It will be up to the board to choose her successor, but Mulroy already has someone in mind. She said John Entsminger, current senior deputy general manager of the authority and the district, has been deeply involved in negotiations on the Colorado River for more than a decade and would bring extensive experience and built-in credibility to the job.
“You can’t bring someone in from Des Moines for something like this. In my mind, he’s the only one who can do this job,” Mulroy said.
Monday’s surprise announcement wasn’t how she planned it. She said she had just started notifying members of the board when word leaked out.
“I realized a long time ago that I’m not in control of such things,” she said.
In recent months, Mulroy’s husband, Robert, has been dealing with health issues. The two just returned from a trip to Italy, where they toured Vatican City and had an audience with the pope alongside about 2,500 fellow members of the Catholic order to which Mulroy belongs.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” she said.
It was a college scholarship that first drew Mulroy to Las Vegas from Munich, Germany, in 1974. She got her bachelor’s degree from UNLV, then stayed on to earn her master’s in German literature. Laugh if you will, she said, but “it’s a great study in human nature, and it’s a great study in political theory.”
She went to work for Clark County in 1978 and eventually served as the first- ever administrator for the justice court system before landing the No. 2 job at the water district in 1985. Four years later, she was running the place.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.