Press Release

RELEASE: Does McCain Want a Water War?

WASHINGTON, DC—Yesterday during an interview with the Denver Post, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) claimed, "I will not and have never supported renegotiating the Colorado River Compact," an agreement that "governs how seven Western states, including Colorado and Arizona, share the Colorado River."

This is false. As Alice Madden, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, wrote in the Wonk Room on August 20th, 2008, McCain told The Pueblo Chieftain that the 1922 Colorado River compact, which determines water sharing for Colorado and other upper basin states with lower basin states like Arizona, California, and New Mexico, “obviously needs to be renegotiated,” citing “the new realities of high growth.”

McCain Wants A Water War

“I don’t think there’s any doubt the major, major issue is water and can be as important as oil,” McCain said. “So the compact that is in effect, obviously, needs to be renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties.”

As Jonathan Adler reminds us, “In the West, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” Has John McCain forgotten where he comes from? His cavalier attitude about the distribution of western water should send a chill down the spine of anyone who hails from west of the Mississippi.

Even scarier is that Sen. McCain seemed oblivious to the hard work on this very issue completed just last year. The seven states of the Colorado River basin worked together to craft a new agreement within the 1922 compact to deal with the increasing problem of drought and lower basin water demands. This agreement, signed by the states and the federal government on December 13, 2007, was praised by Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne, the former Republican governor of Idaho: “You have steered around the cataracts and sharp boulders of litigation and acrimony. You have found the serene waters of partnership and cooperation.”

McCain’s reckless comments threaten all of that hard work. And that is why the condemnation of McCain’s remarks in Colorado has been swift and bipartisan:

“Senator McCain’s position on opening up the Colorado River Compact is absolutely wrong and would only happen over my dead body.” — Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO)

“He will not get a more fierce fight from a United States senator than he will have from me.” — former Rep. Bob Schaeffer (R-CO)

“On this issue he couldn’t be more wrong. Nothing is more crucial for Colorado than water, and I oppose any suggestion that the federal government should get involved in how we share it with Arizona, California or any other state.” — Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO)

“It would be sheer folly to re-open the compact at a time like this when all of the states are working cooperatively on this issue.” — Gov. Bill Ritter (D-CO)

I have an idea. Why doesn’t the Senator from Arizona turn his attention to how to help the region deal with the looming threat of global warming? “Scientists have predicted a 10 to 30 percent reduction of water flow in the Colorado River,” the Sierra Club’s Rob Smith explained to the Denver Post, “due to long-term drought and higher temperatures associated with climate change in the Southwest.” Instead of proposing an agenda with water conservation and stream restoration, McCain is promoting a unsustainable expansion of water-hungry non-renewable energy projects in the West.

McCain should spend less time inside the DC beltway and more time with real Coloradans, so he can discuss real solutions instead of trying to reopen old wounds.