McCain: West needs long-term talks on Colo. River
DENVER, Colorado – Sen. John McCain said a key water agreement among seven Western states should be “renegotiated over time,” but a spokesman explained Friday he was talking about the prospect of long-term conversations and was not advocating immediate changes.
The GOP presidential candidate told The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain in Friday’s editions that the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which governs how the river is shared among the seven states, “obviously needs to be renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties.”
McCain’s home state, Arizona, is one of the member states.
His comments triggered a sharp response from Colorado Democrats, who called the compact “sacrosanct.” They said renegotiating now would be foolish because a 2007 agreement among the compact states eased tensions caused by a long-term drought.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, called the idea of renegotiating the compact “sheer folly,” saying last year’s agreement has all seven states working cooperatively.
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said McCain’s proposal “is absolutely wrong and would only happen over my dead body.”
“In my view the compact is sacrosanct. I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that it is not opened up,” he told the Chieftain.
Tom Kise, the McCain campaign’s Colorado spokesman, said McCain was not proposing that the 2007 agreement be reopened or any immediate talks on the compact.
“He’s talking about ongoing conversations, conversations that happen this year, next year, 10, 20, 30 years down the road,” Kise said.
Kise said McCain knows global warming is changing water conditions in the West, and that means the states need to talk. “As long as water is going to be an issue in the West, there should be an open conversation among all parties,” Kise said.
The Colorado River is one of the most important ” and most fought-over ” water sources in the West. The 1922 compact allocates 7.5 million acre-feet of water each year to California, Nevada and Arizona, known as the lower basin states, with the rest divided among the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
An acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two U.S. households.
McCain said talks are needed because population growth has increased the demand for Colorado River water. He said he does not advocate actions that would weaken any state’s water rights.
“But I know there have been discussions amongst the governors. I encourage those discussions as to how we best use a scarcer and scarcer resource in the West,” he said.
Last year’s supplemental agreement among the seven states formalized rules for cooperation during droughts.
It commits the states to negotiate before going to court, establishes rules for handling surplus water in times of plentiful runoff and encourages conservation.