Pat Mulroy's rise to the top of the Las Vegas Valley Water District almost didn't happen. The Clark County Commission tapped her as general manager of the LLVWD in 1989.
"You know I didn't want the job," says Mulroy, whose last day on the job is Feb. 6. "I didn't think I could do it. It was a daunting proposition. But people came to me and said 'You really need to do it.'"
Now, a quarter of a century later, she says the time is right to retire.
Mulroy was born in Germany, the daughter of an American father and a German mother. She still speaks fluent German. While studying in Munich, she was offered a scholarship at UNLV. "So Aug. 24, 1974, all by myself, I came to Las Vegas," Mulroy recalls. "I knew nobody."
Fifteen years later, Mulroy was running the water district and three years after that, she assumed the post of general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The district delivers water to residents and businesses in the city of Las Vegas and the urban unincorporated parts of Clark County. The authority is also responsible for supplying water to water agencies in the valley.
Mulroy has overseen many negotiations and projects, including a plan to bring groundwater from rural Nevada to Southern Nevada.
Ranchers, environmentalists and others argue that moving water from deep aquifers in White Pine and Lincoln counties will leave ranches dry and harm wildlife.
Mulroy insists that the water authority would never let the ground water run dry. But she does say much of the tab for the multi-million-dollar project will have to be picked up by taxpayers.
"I think the community will have to talk about tax rates to pay for it . . . other revenue sources and spread it," Mulroy said. "Dumping it on water rates would be tough to swallow." Mulroy has seen the effects of drought on Las Vegas, similar to the water shortages Denver experienced in 2002.
"Their golf courses were going brown," she says. "Their lawns were going brown. Could that happen here? Our job is to make sure that doesn't happen. That's why we're building the third intake. That's why we're doing everything we can. I can't sit here and say it's not possible."
Mulroy says Southern Nevada needs to learn more about how climate change is affecting snowpack in the Rockies, and that Congress needs to fund the research.
Authorities don't know how climate change will affect the water supply in the long term: "We don't know. We don't have a clue. But we need to find out. We need to find out," she said.
In response to a shrinking Lake Mead, the water authority is building a third intake. Workers are tunneling through the rock below the lake to keep water flowing to Southern Nevada taps.
That tunnel is one place Mulroy will not go.
"I am way too claustrophobic. There's no way you will ever, ever, ever get me down that tunnel," Mulroy said.