Them what's got shall get,
them what's not shall lose


Expanded from the 9-21-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
An updated version appeared in the 9-25-2003 Comstock Chronicle

Power and profit drive people to great heights and low places. If love is our most powerful emotion, love of money represents its most prolific perversion.

Sierra Pacific Powerful may not have been able to outfox the likes of Enron, but its executives long ago mastered the skill of screwing the public in a manner Enron would admire. Last week's revelations about SPP's sale of its former water department brought the chilling prospect that the new public entity may have paid humongously too much and now the ratepayers are on the hook for huge rate hikes. (The story was first broken by Sparks Tribune Associate Editor William Albright a few months back, but it took the rest of the media awhile to catch up.)

A couple of years ago, Enron and its cronies royally ripped off SPP, PG&E and the rest of the utility alphabet soup. The energy robber barons have thus far enjoyed the full assistance and cooperation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in getting away with it. Where California Gov. Gray Davis may only pay with his job, you and I will have to pay for years to come. Looks like local water users are in for a minor league version of instant replay.

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN. The creation of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority seems highly reminiscent of the 1985 privatization of Washoe Medical Center. By controlling information and shutting out the public, a sharp group of insiders obtained a public asset worth between $60 million and $120 million (in 1985 dollars) for a mere $3 million. (You will find reams of info about that ripoff by using the search engine at

Washoe Med today is one of the largest businesses in the region, bigger than most casinos, and the public continues to pay through the nose. Cost reduction and removal of public liability for indigent care were the PR reasons for the privatization, neither of which happened. Kind of like Dubya's use of al Qaeda and nukes as fraudulent excuses to take over Iraq.

SPP has never had the public interest at heart. For decades, it was run as a feudal fiefdom with a license to steal and a public-be-damned attitude. Not much has changed. Last year, SPP CEO Jeff Ceccarelli refused my requests to disclose his salary, information which had to be revealed just weeks later under federal law. He also refused to take part in a discussion with Nevada Consumer Advocate Tim Hay on my television show.

Where the water fiasco is concerned, it's apparent that those supposedly working in the public interest were hornswaggled in the finest corporate tradition. When will our public servants ever learn that big business can afford to hire more and better attorneys and experts than can the taxpayers. The only antidotes to corporate brain- and bankpower lie in openness and transparency.

The great Travus T. Hipp used to liken his record-setting radio audience to a huge computer wherein he would punch in the questions and await the answers. In this media-besotten age, that perspective should be even more relevant.

Alas and alack, if the questions are never asked, answers cannot be formed. Water meters have been offered as the only surcease from the sorrow of looming rate increases. A quarter-century ago, I proudly stood with the insurgents fighting SPP's call for meters. For starters, capital investment in meters represented a huge new profit center for the company's rate base.

Controlled growth advocates argued then as they do now that water conservation only means more for developers. Not a bad point, but developers will always find a way to get water for their projects — they hire smarter lawyers.

A former Reno city councilman once asked me a question I couldn't answer: How do you waste water? Thinking it through, he had me. Other than evaporative loss, the water that goes down the drain eventually finds its way back into the system. Hell, looking at the big picture, even your sweat gets recycled. All the rest is paperwork.

The Truckee Meadows Water Authority has too much authority over too much paper, greenbacked and otherwise. A consumer advocacy organization, made up of ratepayers, needs to be started to ride herd over TMWA. I'd like to hear from volunteers. Write me here at the paper or via e-mail.

Our public officials have demonstrated their incompetence at representing our best interests. It's time to take it to the people.

SPEAKING OF CONSUMER GROUPS, the City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, which I chair, meets this Thursday at 4:00 p.m. at Reno City Hall. You'll find agenda items and other relevant information at It will be cablecast live on SNCAT Sparks-Reno Charter Channel 13, with a rebroadcast this Saturday at 3:00 p.m., same station. A second rebroadcast will probably run on Monday evening, Sept. 29. Watch the website. Things is getting real interesting.

DUBYA PART DEUX. I'm not yet convinced that Dubya's in any trouble for re-election. After the voters of Sparks returned Sen. Maurice Washington to office, any remaining respect I had for the American electorate evaporated. People as dumb as ferns shouldn't be allowed to vote. Or drive. Or propagate. They are, however, qualified to become big fans of TMWA, SPP or Washoe Med. Send a big tip with your checks.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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