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.