Two weeks in the West

  • The CityCenter Casino Resort in Las Vegas

    COURTESY MGM MIRAGE
  • The Harmon (400-room hotel and residences)

    COURTESY MGM MIRAGE
  • The 350-unit towers of the Veer luxury condos

    COURTESY MGM MIRAGE
  • The 1,500-unit Vdara (condo and hotel)

    COURTESY MGM MIRAGE
 

The price of that guacamole you love to snack on is probably going to climb. California's farmers, already struggling with drought, are facing even drier times, and some avocado growers are hacking down trees to save water. 

California has withered under drought for much of the last decade, and this year could end up being the driest on record for the southern part of the state. The watershed of one of the region's primary water arteries - the Colorado River - is also unusually dry, and its major reservoirs are only about half full. The state has, in large part, learned to live with those shortages, but now things may get tougher. In December, a court order will limit the amount of water that federal and state agencies can pump from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, which provides drinking water to 25 million people as well as irrigation water to countless farms. The ruling, which could cut by one-third the 1.1 trillion gallons of water pumped annually, is intended to help the Delta smelt, an endangered fish whose numbers, long in decline, have plummeted by 93 percent over the last year. In all likelihood, nature won't make up for the Delta's diminishing water: Climatologists expect this winter to be even drier than usual due to the oceanic phenomenon known as La Nina. 

The potential crisis could give a boost to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed multibillion dollar bond package, which would fund water projects, including three new dams in the state. 

Sayonara. Sen. Pete - Domenici, that is - New Mexico's senior Republican senator, announced Oct. 4 that he will not seek re-election in 2008. That leaves a wide-open race for the seat, which the six-term senator was almost sure to have held had he chosen to run. Domenici's brought a lot of money into New Mexico and has been a strong supporter of conservative policies nationally. But his legacy - good or bad - is most likely to lie in his support for nuclear energy. Last year, he helped clinch the deal to bring a nuclear enrichment plant to New Mexico. He has also pressured the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be nicer to industry, pushed for nuclear-friendly provisions and subsidies in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and has advocated for the Yucca Mountain federal repository. The nuclear industry has returned the favors, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Domenici's campaign coffers. 

There weren't supposed to be grizzlies in the Clearwater National Forest of Idaho. Or at least that's what the feds said. So, the guy from Tennessee who was hunting black bear on Sept. 3 and ended up shooting a grizzly instead probably can't be blamed. Though environmental groups have been claiming for the last decade or more that there are grizzlies in the area, the shooting marked the first officially confirmed sighting since the 1940s. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are now warning hunters in the area to take a close look at target bears before pulling the trigger. 

Grizzlies have had a tough time elsewhere, too. Two bowhunters killed a mama bruin with cubs near Libby, Mont., in late September. They claimed self-defense. And in Yellowstone, a 250-pound female grizzly was found dead. Apparently, another grizzly killed her during a fight. 

There was a time when folks in the once-isolated polygamist community of Short Creek could go about their daily lives without much outside scrutiny. These days, though, just about everyone is getting a glimpse into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community, made up of Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. 

During much of September, the national media - obsessed as always with sex - couldn't pull its gaze away from the trial of Warren Jeffs, the church's leader, who was ultimately convicted of being an accomplice to rape. His crime: arranging a marriage between two cousins, one 14 and one 19. 

It's not yet clear how the verdict will affect the FLDS towns. But even after the Jeffs brouhaha dies down, the attention may continue. Short Creek is just not as isolated or remote as it once was; Hilldale is in Washington County, the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation. 

Gambling on green 

Sin City's all about excess consumption, making it an unlikely place to be on the cutting edge of enviro development. But throw in some healthy tax incentives, and even Las Vegas can go green: A half-dozen large projects are currently in the works there. The biggest is MGM-Mirage's Project CityCenter, which will sport its own power plant, recycle some of its water and recycle or reuse 80 percent of the materials left over from the demolished parking lots and hotel that previously occupied the lot. 

The CityCenter Casino Resort in Las Vegas, top, will include The Harmon (400-room hotel and residences), the 350-unit towers of the Veer luxury condos, and the 1,500-unit Vdara (condo and hotel). 

$7 billion Amount MGM-Mirage expects to spend building Project CityCenter, its massive new "green" development on the Las Vegas Strip. 

9 megawatts Capacity of on-site power plant that will provide 10 percent of the complex's power. 

9,000 Number of single-family homes this could power. 

48,000 Tons of greenhouse gases MGM-Mirage estimates will not be emitted from the project thanks to energy-efficient technology. 

373,470 Estimated tons of carbon dioxide the project will emit each year. 

1 Estimated percent that building costs increased in making the project green. 

$390 million Estimated tax breaks the project may qualify for under a Nevada green building law passed in 2005. 

76 Footprint, in acres, of the project. 

4,800 Number of hotel rooms contained in the project. 

94,600 Gallons of water used per room each year by the MGM-Grand Casino, another property owned by the same company. 

$518 Average amount the Southern Nevada Water Authority spends per person on developing new water supplies. 

$1 billion Amount of tax dollars that could be lost over the next decade from just seven proposed projects, under the Nevada green building law. 

2 Number of years the law had been in effect before lawmakers voted to reduce its tax breaks. 

 

-Christine Hoekenga

High Country News Classifieds
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor, Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • ANCESTRAL LANDS ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER
    Starting Salary: Grade C, $19.00 to 24.00 per/hour Location: Albuquerque or Gallup, NM Status: Full-Time, Non-Exempt Benefit Eligible: Full Benefits Eligible per Personnel Policies Program...
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.