With some predicting that this fast growing metropolis will run out of water within the decade, the head of the region's water authority has a tough job ahead.
"Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, may be the most powerful person in Las Vegas. She's responsible for keeping the water flowing in the desert metropolis-no mean feat in a city that was adding almost 8,000 new residents a month until the recent real estate meltdown. A controversial local figure ("Mulroy has no real counterpart on the East Coast," the New York Times reported. "Her nearest analogue might be Robert Moses."), she oversees everything from public-works projects to conservation efforts and water negotiations with neighboring states and municipalities in the Colorado River basin.
Mulroy's immense task has been further complicated by persistent drought and the threat of climate change. The two reservoirs that provide water for 27 million people in seven states-Lake Mead and Lake Powell-are now half full.
A recent Scripps Institution of Oceanography study found a 50 percent chance that both lakes will dry up by 2021 and a ten percent chance that they will run out of usable water by 2013. Currently, the water authority is moving forward with a controversial plan to pump water from the aquifers in the rural north. Executive editor Martin C. Pedersen recently spoke to Mulroy about the drought, her battles with local environmentalists, and the future of development in the West."