Hedging their bets

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By Optic Editorial Board

Let’s be clear on this: The proposed water rate increases are high because a large influx of revenue is needed. Las Vegas needs millions of additional dollars to address some pressing water system needs. If not, the “what-ifs” could determine the city’s future.

Here are a couple of those what-ifs — worst-case scenarios that might still be preventable, if only the city had the money:

• What if a major storm inundates the Gallinas Canyon with several inches of rainfall, creating flood conditions? It could fill Peterson Lake, one of the city’s reservoirs, putting pressure on an already leaking century-old dam.

If that dam fails, God help those who are in the path of the millions of gallons of water that would descend on the lower terrains below.

• What if a major wildfire were to occur in the Gallinas Canyon? The result would be mountainside erosion causing ash, sediment and debris to flow downriver to the city’s diversion dam. Because of the lack of catchment ponds in the canyon, the sediment and debris could essentially cripple the city’s water system.

One estimate is that the city’s Gallinas water would be undrinkable for up to two years, though we’d only have about two months of treatable water in reserve. And since 90 percent of the city’s water comes from that canyon, Las Vegas would essentially dry up.

These aren’t just Chicken Little worries. As climate change takes hold, dire weather conditions — including extreme droughts, record-setting wildfires and major storms — will be more and more common. That’s the future to expect and prepare for.

Water is essential to survival as a community, and yet Las Vegas’ water system is in dire straits. It’ll take a lot money to make the necessary improvements (a preliminary engineering report issued last year called for $123 million over 40 years) but instead of taking aggressive action, three out of four Las Vegas City Council members — Tonita Gurule-Giron, David Romero and Joey Herrera — are hedging their bets.

Instead of boldly stepping forward and supporting the proposed increases, they’re interested in a trimmed-down rate plan, as if “almost” is “good enough.” But, of course, it isn’t.

Some have understandably decried the steep increases as particularly hard on low-income families and senior citizens on fixed incomes. To that, city officials have said the city will find a way to help people in such circumstances. We’ll hold them to that; we expect the city to make sure no one sacrifices too much to keep the water flowing.

For everyone else, however, consider it a necessary investment. We’re talking about the future of the city here.

Paying now will be cheaper than paying later. Work on the city’s water system will cost less now than it will down the road, and it will heighten our chances of averting a catastrophe. Plus, a higher rate increase will allow more bonds to be sold and increase the possibility of getting even more state and federal funding.

Politics be damned, councilors, this is too important to play with. We need real fixes, not Band-Aids. If you opt for the Band-Aid, don’t expect anyone to call you part of the solution. Instead, you’ll be part of the same old broken system that Las Vegas needs to fix.