Mulroy was a principal architect of the Authority, which allowed Southern Nevada to not only weather the stresses of growth, but also one of the worst droughts to befall the Colorado River. As general manager of one of the country’s most progressive water agencies, Mulroy was exceptionally active in regional and national water issues.
We are honored to welcome Pat Mulroy as the closing speaker for the 2014 Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference. She will discuss, “Being an Effective Advocate for Water: Lessons Learned along the Way.”
A: When the Colorado River Compact was originally signed I don’t think anybody envisioned the changes that were going to happen in the larger river community. They didn’t envision a treaty with Mexico, they didn’t envision the growth of California, the Colorado Front Range, or any of the urban growth and development in the basin. Despite the fact that this compact was signed almost 100 years ago, it is as valid today as it was then. They gave it enough flexibility that current stakeholders can find ways to move forward; they aren’t blocked into a 1920’s reality.
Q: During that same presentation you said that sustainability is not an end goal it’s a journey. How do you define sustainability as it relates to water?
A: Sustainability to me is adapting to changing conditions as change occurs. Sustainability is giving yourself the ability to be adaptive; the ability to look ahead 50 years and envision the norm and the high-risk, low-probability events. It’s a continuing process of engagement: evaluating, re-evaluating, and adapting. That’s what sustainability is in the water world.
Q: Why is it important for the water community to advocate for themselves?
A: Because it is extremely complicated. Mr. and Mrs. Jones on the street glaze when you get into the specifics. It also does not lend itself well to political sound bites. That’s when the wheels start coming off the wagon. The only group that has the ability to encapsulate water issues is the water community itself. The only group who can speak to water issues within a safe and neutral framework is the water community itself because their only objective is to continue that journey of sustainability.
Q: The theme for the CWC Summer Conference is “Rallying our Water Community”. As a proven successful advocate in your career, what are three skills most necessary for effective advocacy in water?
- Explain to people why it’s important in their lives.
- Listen to what your partners’ needs and limitations are and know them so well that you can verbalize them.
- Look for common solutions. Do not try to create winners and losers.
A: The voices for other resources come into the discussion but they have their own advocates. Don’t you find it interesting that all of our natural resources have one common thread? That one common thread is water. I think water is a part of other dialogues and those dialogues play into the dialogue about water. What we’re looking for is the fulcrum that balances all those needs, where everybody gets a little less than what they’d hope for but no one is completely devastated.
Q: The Water Congress offers a book club for our members. We’re currently reading “The Blue Revolution” by Cynthia Barnett. In one section she discusses America’s illusion of abundant water supply, which is bolstered by things like fountains and pools. What do you think about this idea?
A: I don’t think that’s the point with fountains, having tried to ban them. Fountains provide a cooling effect when it’s hot outside, and a calming effect. You have to remember that we are predominantly made out of water. There’s a visceral, non-intellectual connection between humans and water.
I finally think I get it. It’s more than fountains providing us with an illusion of abundance. The point is that we feel connected to water because we are physically connected to it. Having it around is comforting to the human spirit. The connection is very hard to describe with words. It’s an emotional connection and a physical reaction. You would never have it with a power plant or a neon sign. That’s what makes it so very different than our other natural resources.
Q: Is that a philosophy you’ve implemented throughout your career?
A: No, I learned that. I was always a rational person and I began to realize this as I listened more and more. It’s one of the great lessons I learned over the course of my career.
People always argue that water is a basic human right. My answer became, “You are right, here’s your bucket. Go down to Lake Mead and take as much as you want. You have a basic human right to water to keep you alive. What you don’t have a basic human right to, is an infrastructure system that takes that water to a high drinking water standard and pumps it hundreds of feet uphill so all you have to do is turn on the faucet.”
But don’t argue with them that it is not a basic human right. Because you can’t exist without it. We may not like our world without power and phones and cars, and all our amenities, but we can survive without them. We cannot survive without water. Therein lies the difference between water and other natural resources and therein lies that human connection.
Q: A number of polls in Colorado have recently published that the public trusts their water providers above anybody else who talks about water. How can they provide consistent, comprehensive information to their water users?
A: People want their information in very simple understandable terms that mean something to them. That’s where the water industry is missing the boat. We get ourselves wrapped up in technical jargon and it goes right over the population’s head. When they ask if it’s safe, they want a one word answer. They don’t want to know how you made it safe. They don’t have time in their life to study it. They want to trust you on a human level and they expect the bad news and the good news. They would rather hear about contaminants from you. You will garner more confidence by being honest.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add to our discussion?
A: I think I’d like to add that I am encouraged that an organization like the Brookings Institute has recognized the importance of water resources in terms of national security, its ability to help forge peace, and in terms of its economic importance. The time has come as we increasingly experience a volatile climate and go from one major event to another. Brookings is working to further national understanding of water issues. I think it’s very timely and fortunate for the water community.