Growth has slowed, and money is tight, but a new poll suggests a majority of valley residents still favor plans to pipe water here from across eastern Nevada.
The rest of the state has a decidedly different view.
The Review-Journal poll of 400 Nevadans showed 52 percent of Clark County residents support the pipeline project. Outside the county, support for the project stands at just 13 percent.
The poll results come on the eve of a pivotal vote on the future of the pipeline.
The governing board of the Southern Nevada Water Authority is meeting this morning to decide whether to continue preliminary work on the project.
Depending on who is asked, the poll either gives board members the backing they need to continue with the pipeline or a mandate to vote it down.
"I see a vote of no confidence on the pipeline in Las Vegas and overwhelmingly statewide," said Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a liberal advocacy group that has come out against the project.
But water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy said she was "pleasantly surprised" by the poll results.
"A good portion of the community understands the water situation in Southern Nevada," she said. "Anybody who has been out to Lake Mead and seen what it looks like is worried. It's a visceral reaction to that very large bathtub ring out there."
The pipeline project first was proposed to supply the community's explosive growth. Now, Mulroy and other authority officials warn that without a secondary water source, the valley could face severe shortages on the drought-stricken Colorado River.
The Las Vegas Valley pulls 90 percent of its drinking water from the Colorado by way of Lake Mead, which has seen its water level fall more than 100 feet in the past decade.
If the reservoir shrinks another 19 feet, Nevada and Arizona will be forced to reduce how much water they take from the river. More severe cuts would follow should Lake Mead continue to shrink.
If it is built, the multibillion- dollar network of pipes, pumps and reservoirs could stretch about 300 miles northeast and supply Las Vegas with enough water each year for almost 270,000 homes.
Statewide, 26 percent of those polled said they have yet to make up their minds about the project. Far fewer people in Clark County, 19 percent, are undecided compared with the rest of Nevada, 40 percent.
"To me, that's a great number," Mulroy said of the 40 percent. "Those are people who have not locked in to be totally opposed to this."
The telephone survey was conducted Monday and Tuesday by Washington, D.C.- based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which sought Nevadans who said they regularly vote in state elections.
The statewide results carry a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Pollster Brad Coker said the margins of error jump to 6 percentage points for Clark County and 9 percentage points for the rest of the state because of the sample sizes, but the overall message is clear.
"The fairest thing to say is the state is pretty much split," Coker said. "Water has always been a big issue in Nevada and other Western states. People don't want to give it up because it is considered a fairly precious resource that is in limited supply."
White Pine County Commissioner and pipeline foe Gary Perea said he expects sentiment for the project to change once Nevada residents learn more about its cost and the shaky science used to justify it.
"The two numbers that stick out to me are the number who are opposed and the number who are undecided," Perea said Wednesday as he prepared to board a rented school bus for the trip south with other rural residents planning to testify at today's meeting.
"Once people see how much they are on the hook for, I suspect these numbers might move even more to opposed," Perea said.
Fulkerson dismissed the 52 percent result of support among Clark County residents as "soft," especially in light of what he called the water authority's multimillion-dollar "public relations effort saying if we don't do this, we're all going to die."
"It just shows they're on very, very thin ice," he said.
Fulkerson said the poll hints at the need for a far different vote on the pipeline than the one scheduled for today.
"I'd like to challenge them to put it on a statewide ballot," he said. "If they don't, they can't keep saying it's for the good of the state."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.