For George Knapp, water is anything but a dry subject. The chief investigative reporter for KLAS-TV in Las Vegas has been covering the complex issues involving water supply for a rapidly growing metropolis for the past 10 years.
But with powerful forces at work—including the casino industry, developers and the Southern Nevada Water Authority—in what Mr. Knapp called a “water grab,” the amount of time in the newscast just wasn’t enough. So the CBS affiliate put on a one-hour special, “Crossfire: Water, Power and Politics,” to dissect a costly new plan and, with it, issues that affect nearly everyone in the desert state.
The program, which has been regularly updated and has aired five times, is taking home a Peabody Award for what the board called “a brave, meticulous examination of a plan to pipe massive amounts of water from rural Nevada to booming Sin City and the potential consequences for ranchers, farmers, Native Americans and the environment.”
The in-depth examination looked at a proposal that would siphon billions of gallons of water to Las Vegas from environmentally sensitive but politically weak rural Nevada counties, as well as at concurrent plans to build three massive coal-fired power plants in the same areas.
Voices on all sides of the controversial issues were heard—elected officials in Las Vegas, the rural residents, environmentalists, scientists, ranchers, business owners, energy executives, water experts and Native Americans. Their views were put into perspective by KLAS political analyst Jon Ralston.
Just a few weeks ago, the Nevada state engineer put the 250- to 300-mile-long water pipeline plan on hold for at least two years.
“We’d like to think we had a small part in asking questions,” said Mr. Knapp, who is also the senior producer of the station’s six-member investigative unit, one of the largest in the nation. “Since it aired, it has emboldened opponents, and environmental groups have jumped in, making noise, and filed lawsuits based on the effects on endangered species. Now that the administration has changed, the Endangered Species Act is being enforced.
“It’s huge money, and huge stakes to determine what kind of growth Las Vegas is going to have. Our roads are clogged, the air is dirty and there are water shortages, but there are other solutions, starting with enforcing conservation efforts, which isn’t being done,” he said.