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In an interview Friday with the Pueblo Chieftan, McCain committed what could amount political suicide in the state by saying that the 1922 water compact negotiated between seven western states should be renegotiated to give Arizona, Nevada, and California (the Lower Basin states) more water. That's unlikely to make Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico (the Upper Basin states) any happier than it's made Colorado. There's nothing more controversial in the West than water, and the single water issue that is most pressing is what happens as the Colorado drainage continues to experience drought and demand continues to grow. California's water rapaciousness was the issue in 1922 that brought the seven states' governors to negotiate the compact, and California's huge thirst is still the problem. But massive population growth in and around Las Vegas and Phoenix have the Lower Basin states--and the Republican nominee for president--eyeing a greater share of the Colorado.

Colorado to McCain: Hands Off Our Water

In an interview Friday with the Pueblo Chieftan, McCain committed what could amount political suicide in the state by saying that the 1922 water compact negotiated between seven western states should be renegotiated to give Arizona, Nevada, and California (the Lower Basin states) more water. That’s unlikely to make Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico (the Upper Basin states) any happier than it’s made Colorado.

There’s nothing more controversial in the West than water, and the single water issue that is most pressing is what happens as the Colorado drainage continues to experience drought and demand continues to grow. California’s water rapaciousness was the issue in 1922 that brought the seven states’ governors to negotiate the compact, and California’s huge thirst is still the problem. But massive population growth in and around Las Vegas and Phoenix have the Lower Basin states–and the Republican nominee for president–eyeing a greater share of the Colorado.

Reaction in Colorado has been swift and incensed. Here’s Ken Salazar:

“Senator McCain’s position on opening up the Colorado River Compact is absolutely wrong and would only happen over my dead body,” Salazar said. “It’s an anathema to the fundamental principles of Colorado’s water rights and our compacts.”

The senator said that when the state’s compacts with the lower basin states were negotiated, everyone knew at the time that those states would grow in population faster than Colorado. As a result, the upper basin states’ water rights needed to be protected.

“We did not want California to gobble up all of the water supply on the Colorado River, and they would have done that under the doctrine of equitable apportionment,” Salazar said. “In my view the compact is sacrosanct. I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that it is not opened up.”

Even Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer had to attack his party’s standard bearer on this one:

“Over my cold, dead, political carcass,” Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer said.

“The compact is the only protection Colorado has from several more politically powerful downstream states,” Schaffer added. “Opening it for renegotiation would be the equivalent of a lamb discussing with a pack of wolves what should be on the dinner menu.”

The Denver Post was particularly snarky:

Memo to: John McCain.

From: Five million thirst-crazed Coloradans.

Subject: Forget about winning our nine electoral votes next November. We don’t vote for water rustlers in this state; we tar and feather them! …

As a senator, McCain has long represented a state, Arizona, that would love to steal Colorado’s water. But now, he wants our votes. Apparently, nobody bothered to brief the candidate who Paris Hilton called “that wrinkly, white-haired guy” that stealing Colorado’s water to benefit Arizona, California and Nevada isn’t as popular an idea in Colorado as it is in Arizona, California and Nevada.

And ColoradoPols says McCain just lost Colorado.

There’s nine electoral votes in Colorado (the state’s unofficial motto: “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting) that are a lot less likely to be swinging in November. It’s probably safe to say New Mexico’s five aren’t going to be up for grabs now, either. It sure as hell isn’t going to give McCain California, though it might shore up his chances in his home state. Maybe that’s what this was all about after all, trying to make sure he doesn’t lose Arizona. Because there isn’t any other way to explain it.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

About Joan McCarter

Joan McCarter is a contributing editor at Daily Kos, writing as "mcjoan." She has focused on Iraq, the traditional media, and electoral politics at the blog. During the 2006 election, McCarter focused her writing on Democratic prospects in the west. She traveled throughout the Rocky Mountain states through the last weeks of the campaign, researching and writing about Democratic candidates and campaign strategies. She is currently researching a book on western politics scheduled to be published in spring, 2008. McCarter worked on Capitol Hill for then Congressman and now Senator Ron Wyden. She has broad campaign experience and has been deeply involved in Democratic politics since childhood. She has a master's degree in international studies from the University of Washington and worked as a writer, editor, and instructional designer at the UW from 1995-2006. She is currently a fellow at Daily Kos.

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23 comments

  1. McCain said specifically he would protect the states rights of colorado. In the interview he said he would do nothing against the wishes of colorado. He said it would be up to the governor of colorado to work with the other governors.

    McCain said he was a federalist and would never touch the water in colorado.

    I give the lefty media writers credit though. They have finally found a way to nail McCain with a smear. They totally took McCain out of context. Context counts for nothing anymore. Truncate his statements and smear him.

  2. Emerson Schwartzkopf

    As a resident of Southern California (yes, I can imagine the mean scowls already), I applaud John McCain’s comments. No, I’m not looking to “steal” more water; however, it’s high time to rethink Colorado River Basin policy.

    Sure, we drink a lot of Colorado River water out here. As a resident of the lower desert, I thrive on it. But, I didn’t always live here. I was born in Denver more than a half-century ago, and lived for years on the Western Slope before I moved to warmer climes.

    During all those years, I realized that the Colorado River Compact is one of the most-flawed policies ever imposed on U.S. citizens. This wasn’t a carefully composed and negotiated agreement; it came at the fiat of a very cross U.S. Supreme Court. And, it involves allocation of water as it passed through Lee’s Ferry, Ariz., in an abnormal year. It takes nothing into account when it comes to development, technology or even changes in the general priorities of water usage.

    The charges of water theft by downstream states is one of the easiest and cheapest charges to throw and obsfucate the issue. It successfully hides the fact that a good share of water-rights users in upstream states, particularly Colorado, keep large amounts of acre-feet in reserve for usages and developments that will never come (and sometimes are actively resisted).

    And, it also pulls the shade over the big unspoken issue within Colorado; agriculture is given priority usage — it’s in the state constitution — and need not adhere to any conservation ideas. We can always find a poor farmer to state the case against California, but we don’t talk about how that farm consumes large amounts of water (as opposed to human-based development, which treats wastewater to federal statute and sends it back downstream).

    Of course, after everybody wets their whistle on the latest brew-up over the big bad boys downstream, the whole strategy changes when there’s talk of getting more water from the Pacific drainage. Then, it’s a fight against transmountain diversion or some other catch ID that signifies the “keep it natural” debate against water-grubbing Front Rangers.

    Yes, my perspectives have changed with my location. But even before I moved to Southern California, I began to see Colorado as one of the Water Hogs of the West. The recent water-on-the-knee-jerk reactions to John McCain, as a result, are pretty much on the mark.

  3. Here is what McCain said:

    I don’t think there’s any doubt the major, major issue is water and can be as important as oil. So the compact that is in effect, obviously, needs to be renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties,” McCain said while on his way to the Aspen Institute. “I think that there’s a movement amongst the governors to try, if not, quote, renegotiate, certainly adjust to the new realities of high growth, of greater demands on a scarcer resource.

    “Conditions have changed dramatically, so I’m not saying that anyone would be forced to do anything because I’m a federalist and believe in the rights of states,” he added. “But at the same time there’s already been discussion amongst the states, and I believe that more discussion amongst the governors is probably something that everybody wants us to do.”

    McCain is a western senator who is a federalist and believes in states rights.

    McCain said it would be up to the governors. He said he wouldn’t touch Colorado’s water.

    But somehow the left and the media use this to smear McCain.

    I have never in my life seen an election covered as badly by the media as this election.

    Yeah lets smear a western senator who believes in states rights for the chicago pol who goes after small town america at a san francisco fundraiser.

    You media types won. You smeared McCain so bad on lies that Obama will now be CIC. Go celebrate you did it.

  4. Let us not forget that the Pickens Plan that Obama is snuggling up to would drawf the Colorado water concerns. Pickens has bought up in excess of 200000 acres of water rights to ship that water to other parched areas. It goesn hat in hand with his energy deal to use the same transmission right of ways as the wind generated power. What McCain said is rather benign. What Pickens, Pelosi, and Obama aim to do would be horrendous for the West’s largest water source and acquifer.

  5. By the way, I am a regular reader of Joan’s column and enjoy them. In this case I don’t think she actually read McCains words as posted by Jesse. Perhaps she just read the rants on anti-McCain blogs and got caught it in the frenzy without checking the facts. We all make mistakes.

  6. State’s Rats! State’s Rats! I’m flashing back to my dear old Governor George C. Wallace and his lovely wife Lurleen B.! Good Democrats, both. It’s one rough ass day in the US when a man can be nostalgic for G. Wallace. And I am.

    I love the federalists, too. Especially the Republican federalists, who holler “state’s rats, state’s rats,” when their buddies on the state level want to oppress some minority group or steal the people’s lands and resources, but holler, “Never!” if say, California wants to save its people from deadly levels of smog spewed out by Big Money Contributors, or New Mexico says no to destroying the Otero Mesa for 30 hours worth of natural gas, or trying to establish some sane efficiency standards for cars or appliances so we can move this damn train we got intentionally stalled on the tracks until every last dollar has been sucked out of our bank accounts and pockets by Big Energy or Big PHARMA or whoever gave the most money last time, or wehovere promises the highest paying job when the “elected or appointed term” is over….

    Give me break. If John McCain had come out as an Independent, who would the Republicans have sent into the fray? Anti-evolution mini-theocrat Huckabee? The Mormon hairdo from socialistic Massachusetts? McCain could have won the presdiency as an Independent. But with the baggage he’s hauling around right now, talking about oil shale and offshore drilling, a once proud man, reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy with the stuffing falling out and the paint wearing off its face, babbling neo con hooey, theocratic, big government, deficits don’t matter, wiretap the citizenry, we have always been at war with east friggin Asia, gotta get Goldstein, think he’s in Iran, travel to the gates of hell, and take the nation with me there and right down into it, just don’t ask me to try and think for myself.

    Trees cause pollution, and tonight I got to really listen to the big brains at the Heritage Institute and the Club For Growth. New ideas, that’s right.

    And me, doggone it, I’m the man without a candidate.

  7. Hal, George Cohan even write the campaign song:

    I’m a Howdy Doody Dandy,
    A Howdy Doody, do or die;
    A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,
    Born on the Fourth of July.

    I’ve got a Howdy Doody sweetheart,
    She’s my Howdy Doody joy.

    Howdy Doody came to London,
    Just to ride the ponies,
    I am the Howdy Doody Boy.

    ============

    Howdy’s string theory politics goes like this: He who pulls my strings gets to make the theory. Not much different than the other guys I suspect.

  8. Pickens bought up water rights from the Ogalalla aquifer. This aquifer is in the Mississippi/Missouri River system drainage. You and I know Craig would never let facts get in the way of a little concern trolling.

  9. flounder here are the facts with map on the aquifer: http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Oc-Po/Ogallala-Aquifer.html

    Please note that it stretches from SD to Texas. Damn important to the front range. Pickens plan with his accomplices like Pelosi and new friend Obama will only further impair this important resource. All this so he can make billions on the sale of water.

  10. Yo Craig,
    Have you ever been the slightest bit WRONG about anything??? Maybe you should broaden your reading and watching materials and discover that not everything you are currently reading, watching or listening to is the TRUTH. Doesn’t it seem strange that only one person is on the RIGHT side of every issue for you. War hero, Christian, white, family values, might makes right, blah, blah, blah. Sounds too good to be true!!!! Truthfully I liked him much better before he gave in to Bush last time. How about some honest answers to “real” issues?

  11. Moore, Jesse, your assertion that McCain has been misquoted doesn’t make any sense to me. Please explain why fellow Republican Bob Schaffer would attack McCain on this issue.

    For reference:

    —————
    “Over my cold, dead, political carcass,” Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer said.

    “The compact is the only protection Colorado has from several more politically powerful downstream states,” Schaffer added. “Opening it for renegotiation would be the equivalent of a lamb discussing with a pack of wolves what should be on the dinner menu.”
    ————–

    Thanks,

    ps.

    By the way, McCain also has no problem with oil shale for CO, for those of you that might not know, oil shale extraction takes unimaginable amounts of water.

  12. Doug, the bone I picked is with Joan over cherry picking his quote and leaving out punctuation. Putting that punctuation back and adding McCain’s full context to include his state’s rights position as being paramount, tells me he meant a conversation about possibilities, not a renegotiation. Poor choice of words. I have no idea why Schaffer said what he said other than political theater needs a villian, real or manufactured.

  13. Craig,

    You have got to be kidding me, do you have any idea how ridiculous that drivel about political theater sounds?

    Please.

    Schaffer said “Over my cold, dead, political carcass,” because John McCain threatened Colorado’s water.

    John McCain is from a more populous low basin desert state long after Colorado’s water. It is ingrained in McCain to want to seize it.

    As Colorado Republican Bob Schaffer said: “The compact is the only protection Colorado has from several more politically powerful downstream states. Opening it for renegotiation would be the equivalent of a lamb discussing with a pack of wolves what should be on the dinner menu.”

    McCain doesn’t honor that compact. His comments reflect that, so does Schaffer’s reaction.

  14. Craig,

    You are full of it. McCain said he want to renegotiate the water compact, even the Republican candidate for Colorado US Senate agrees that is what he meant. Are you know McCain’s spokesperson? Is John McCain again not his own spokesperson?

    And who gives a rat ass about Carl Pope? Pope doesn’t speak for Obama. McCain does speak for McCain (at least presumably, or he just a stand in for, for, … other interests?).

  15. (corrected text)

    Craig,

    You are full of it. McCain said he want to renegotiate the water compact, even the Republican candidate for Colorado US Senate agrees that is what he meant. Are you now McCain’s spokesperson? Is John McCain not his own spokesperson?

    And who gives a rat ass about Carl Pope? Pope doesn’t speak for Obama. McCain does speak for McCain (at least presumably, or is he just a stand in for, for, … other interests?).

  16. Marion,

    The President of the United States has a lot of power, and I’m not going to give it to McCain if he wants to remove (or even renegotiate) Colorado’s water rights.

  17. You will have 1 vote to put against him, just like I will have 1 for him. I jsut hope the anger, downright hatred, and bitterness will diminsh after this election no matter who wins.

  18. Marion, not voting for John McCain because he wants to steal (or “renegotiate”) Colorado’s water has nothing to do with bitterness or hatred. It has to do with commonsense for Colorado.

  19. Doug, what a load of partisan hooey. As I have said before a simple clarify question (“Senator McCain, did you truly mean renegotiation or did you mean a conversation about possibilities among the affected states?”) would put this matter to bed. You know that is not going to happen because the partisans such as yourself are having too much fun with the distortion, the political theater.

  20. Craig, you live in a fairy tale. You do not speak for John McCain. John McCain speaks for John McCain and he said “renegotiate” the water compact. Not only that, but the only other people that might also speak for John McCain are Republican Party candidates in high positions like US Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, and he says John McCain wants to steal Colorado’s water! Reality is not with you Craig.

  21. Doug, . You just proved my point.

  22. Craig, there is nothing distorted about accurately quoting someone:

    “Over my cold, dead, political carcass,” Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer said.

    “The compact is the only protection Colorado has from several more politically powerful downstream states,” Schaffer added. “Opening it for renegotiation would be the equivalent of a lamb discussing with a pack of wolves what should be on the dinner menu.”

  23. Can someone point me to some articles about McCain wanting to steal Colorado water please?