Former “water empress” Patricia Mulroy knows a thing or two about the effects of climate change. As the former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, she was forced to deal with drought and water shortages that were unprecedented. Greg Hanscom at Grist sat down with Mulroy and the controversial figure warned him that it isn’t just the west that will suffer from the current drought – the entire country would be wise to brace for climate change.
Back in the 90s, Las Vegas was using water like tissue paper, but by the early 2000s the water was gone. The area’s 50-year water supply dried up in a matter of years and the city had to make some tough choices. Mulroy led the city through change with a tough-as-nails attitude and some forward thinking. Under her watch, she made water conservation mandatory, paying people to rip out grass, banning grass in front yards of new homes and limiting lawn to 50 percent of total backyard space. At the same time, she wrangled with other counties and states – sometimes controversially – to assure Southern Nevada’s water future.
Today Las Vegas waters golf courses with wastewater and wastewater is treated and returned to Lake Mead to be used once again. The city also has a massive bank of water stored underground in case things get dicey – Mulroy is certain that they will. She warns that California’s drought won’t just impact California, the drought there will impact food supplies around the country. She also cautions other cities that they can’t ignore climate change and to survive they need to calculate their own risk so they can start planning defenses.
When Hanscom asked Mulroy about the Obama administration, she said that they are using broad-strokes to fix climate issues, which isn’t the best way. “ Strategically, they need to repool those resources and focus on science. The greatest investment the federal government could make right now would be to provide the financial resources that NOAA and NASA need to refine the science around predictability of climate and weather,” she told Hanscom. “Looking in the rear-view mirror doesn’t do us any good. We’re walking into such uncertainty. We don’t know how this turns out.”