What epic gaffe could unite Colorado's Democratic Senator Ken Salazar -- "over my dead body" -- and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer -- "Over my cold, dead, political carcass"?
That would be Arizona Senator John McCain telling The Pueblo Chieftan on Thursday that he wants to renegotiate the famous 1922 Colorado River compact to take water from the so-called upper basin states, including CO and NM, where the river originates and give it to lower basin states like his home state of AZ:
"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. 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'.
In short, the fact that lots and lots of people keep moving into the desert means Colorado should give up more of its water.
[Note to McCain -- Given your recent history of misinformation and disinformation on the subject (see "Will McCain's cynical lies destroy the chance for serious energy and climate policy?"), I'd skip the analogy to oil.]
Them's fighting words -- literally! The word rival, after all, comes from "people who share the same river." In the West they say, "Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting." See also "Warming Will Worsen Water Wars."
Needless to say, Coloradans do not see things the way that the senator from Arizona does. Democratic Governor Bill Ritter pointed out McCain seems utterly unaware that the compact was just renegotiated in December:
"Just last year, the seven states entered into a new implementing agreement, and that agreement is working as intended," Ritter said. "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."
In a piece titled, "McCain suggests raiding Colorado's water," the deputy editorial page editor of The Denver Post wrote Friday on behalf of "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....
... when the lower basin states talk about "renegotiating" the compact, that's their code for a process of give and take -- in which Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming give and California, Arizona and Nevada take.
ColoradoPols says McCain just lost Colorado. Sen. Salazar, an expert on water law, said
"Senator McCain's position on opening up the Colorado River Compact is absolutely wrong and would only happen over my dead body.... It's an anathema to the fundamental principles of Colorado's water rights and our compacts."
In theory McCain understands global warming, so he should know that the West is going to get hotter and drier. In the coming decades, the Rockies snow "reservoir" will diminish, disappearing earlier and earlier in the season. The Upper Basin aides are going to have less and less water to share.
I agree with Sierra Club's Southwest regional director Rob Smith, who said:
Scientists have predicted a 10 to 30 percent reduction of water flow in the Colorado River due to long-term drought and higher temperatures associated with climate change in the Southwest. Instead of threatening a diminishing resource, it would be better to help states and communities with water conservation projects and stream restoration.
McCain's gaffe is both bad policy and bad politics.