I am currently attempting to revise the fifth chapter of my book manuscript, and I am having problems with the rewrite. I recently took a look at the old version of my chapter, and wasn’t sure if I even understood the basics of the English language when I originally wrote it. I realize I need to discard the original chapter introduction and start with something new.
To this point in the book (chapters 1-4), I have discussed the history of water in Las Vegas and how shortage during the 1980s prompted five local water agencies to begin negotiations that would help them through the lean times. Ultimately, these agencies decided to surrender a large degree of their autonomy and joined in a new super-agency, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, or SNWA. This was essentially like the Confederated States of America discarding their articles and agreeing to become a United States of America with the adoption of a new constitution. The first part of my book highlights that the local water agencies in Las Vegas were beholden to outside forces like the State of Nevada’s Colorado River Commission, and the US Bureau of Reclamation. Essentially, Las Vegas’s water agencies had little control over their own destiny, since their primary water source, the Colorado River, was administered by state and federal level institutions.
The point of this chapter is to mark the point at which the SNWA completed its political consolidation, took control over southern Nevada’s water policy, and embarked upon a campaign of obtaining additional water above the state’s basic Colorado River allocation. Basically, how the SNWA took control over its own destiny, rather than relying on other actors to provide water to Las Vegas. In this chapter, I want to explain how the Southern Nevada Water Authority moved from its initial phase of existence, in which it engaged in a process of political consolidation over local water policy, and into a new phase where it used its political power to seek out and acquire distant water sources. It’s essentially an analysis about what became possible for the SNWA after it had consolidated local, county, and state level power.
The two campaigns I examine are the Virgin River development plan, and the Arizona Groundwater Banking Agreement. Both of these campaigns led to the SNWA obtaining more water, and both demonstrate the varying degrees to which the Law of the Colorado River influences southern Nevada water policy. Both of these examples are massively important to Las Vegas water history because they 1) led to the SNWA obtaining water above its basic Colorado River allocation (an unprecedented development) and 2) because they demonstrate the high degree to which the LOR influences local water policy decisions. Indeed, they demonstrate how any local government within the Colorado River Basin is likely going to be influenced to some degree by the LOR.
In the early 1990s, the SNWA identified two water sources it wanted to pursue, one in-state (the Virgin River), and the other, out-of-state (Arizona’s Unused Colorado River allocation). They both required unique strategies and interstate negotiations of varying sorts. The most important aspects of this story are that a local agency (the SNWA), was obtaining water and doing so by negotiating at the highest levels of government in the Colorado River Basin, notable because the agencies with whom the SNWA was negotiating were typically at the state and even national level. And also, that the SNWA was directly challenging the Law of the River, which to that point had remained largely unchanged since the 1920s. While a direct challenge to the LOR is in itself interesting, what’s also interesting is that the SNWA actually thought it had a shot at success. This was some major hubris, optimism, or naiveté, given the history of the region, and deserving of analysis.
My challenge here is to highlight the importance of these campaigns, but to do so with an eye on the theme of contingency. I am only aware of their import because I know the ending of the story. How does one introduce a chapter about something of such importance, but do so with enough mystery to not give the story away at the outset? Or, does this even matter? I would be interested in how others have approached this challenge and welcome your advice.