John McCain was terribly stupid Friday. In an interview with the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain, he said that the water compact of which Colorado is a part should be renegotiated.
“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.”
Right. As the author of the article notes, the governors champing to renegotiate for more water are the lower basin states – California, Arizona, and lower New Mexico. The tapdance later in the article – that of COURSE Colorado and Wyoming and Utah and Nevada could increase the amount they stored, but demand is after all demand – was an amazing display of tone deafness from a Senator of one of the Water War states.
There are some states in the eastern half of the United States that have begun to have an inkling of just how important control of water can be. Georgia is fighting with Tennessee, Alabama and Florida over this issue, and some of the Great Lakes states are becoming a bit concerned with “excess withdrawal from the lakes.” But for these regions, this is relatively new – a generation or two. The Colorado River compact was hammered out between the seven southwestern states in 1922 after literally decades of conflict over who got how much water. Literal battles were fought on the high plains and the western plateaus over irrigation rights.
How bad is it? Colorado, in attempt to comply, has an actual line in the constitution that forbids catching and storing rainwater – a rain barrel will net you a nasty time. (I’ll note that Colorado, unlike Texas, does not put every single line of law in the constitution. It’s more like the US Constitution, which has very few specific issues of law. So, our basic governmental document requires a definition of treason, specific protection of habeas corpus, and water storage controls?
Barring a lot of retraction, McCain has probably lost two states that were trending blue anyway (Colorado and Nevada), and may find himself in a much tighter race in a couple more (Utah and Wyoming) than would have been expected. And as this gets more play, he may find himself asked how he thinks some other states in severe negotiation should resolve – and unless he walks a careful, careful line he’ll gain in one state only to lose in another. (Oh, Florida really needs the Chattahoochee water – lock in Florida, lose Georgia, make Alabama a bit tighter. Yeah.)
Access to Water – probably more than Oil – is going to be the major domestic issue of the upcoming two decades. It’s not just a flyover issue any more. And McCain’s heavy-handedness was not a good thing for him.