Water authority delays water charge increase amid chamber concerns

The Southern Nevada Water Authority on Thursday faced criticism about transparency once again as board members delayed action on a water charge increase that even seemed to catch them by surprise.

Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy insisted the increase in the wholesale delivery charge was routine and would not result in higher bills to customers. But she took heat from the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and others for offering too little information and no opportunity for meaningful public input before the matter came up for a vote.

This sort of thing seems to be happening to Mulroy a lot lately.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would put the authority — and its ability to increase rates — under the control of Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission.

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, has said he introduced the measure in response to a water rate hike last year that rocked many commercial customers and was rammed through without sufficient public input.

He said putting the authority under the PUC would bring some much-needed transparency and accountability to the valley’s wholesale water supplier.

The authority opposes the bill, which Mulroy said could wreak financial havoc and strip local officials of the authority to make crucial water supply decisions for the community.

The agenda for Thursday’s water authority board meeting included a proposal to add $10 to what the authority charges its member utilities for each acre-foot of water they receive. The increase, due to take effect July 1, would raise the delivery charge for treated water to $303 and for untreated water to $232 per acre-foot, which is roughly the amount of water used by two average valley homes each year.

But Brian McAnallen, vice president of government affairs for the chamber, complained the backup material explaining the increase was “clearly unclear about what the impacts are going to be.”

“We need to have public hearings for this kind of thing. We have no idea how this is going to be applied going forward,” McAnallen said.

Once a stalwart supporter of the authority, the chamber has become one of the agency’s loudest critics since last year’s steep rate hike affecting commercial water customers.

The chamber’s new role seemed to chafe authority board member Shari Buck, the departing mayor of North Las Vegas.

She complained generally about outside groups trying to exert undue influence over the board. Then she got specific.

“It’s shocking to me that a group that is said to promote business would come and suggest things that would shut business down,” Buck said.

McAnallen said the chamber is not suggesting that raising the wholesale charge for water “is a bad policy direction to take.” They just want the reasons for it and its potential impacts spelled out for all to see, he said.

Mulroy explained that the financial and technical staffs of the authority’s member utilities all agreed to the higher charge and committed to absorbing it without passing it through to customers in the form of a rate hike or new fee.

The increase was expected to generate $4.5 million in revenue to cover the authority’s rising costs of pumping water from Lake Mead, treating it and delivering it to the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the cities of Henderson, North Las Vegas and Boulder City.

Even so, several authority board members said the proposed increase and the reasons behind it caught them by surprise.

Board members decided to postpone action on the matter until next month.

As board member and Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager put it, “I don’t mind giving you a yes vote if I have all the information.”

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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