Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) walked into a bipartisan wave of condemnation in Colorado when he told the Pueblo Chieftain that the 1922 Colorado River compact, which governs the allocation of the river’s water among seven states, “needs to be renegotiated over time”:
“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.”
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) called the compact “sacrosanct,” adding that opening it up “would only happen over my dead body.” Senate candidate and former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO) agreed, telling the Grand Junction Sentinel, “Over my cold, dead, political carcass.” The Denver Post editorialized that McCain “displayed a disturbing ignorance of the realities of the West’s scarce water resources.”
Now, one of McCain’s top surrogates, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is claiming that McCain didn’t mean what he said. Romney told 9News that McCain “has no interest in reopening the compact“:
“Senator McCain has no interest in reopening the compact,” Romney said. “Senator McCain believes as I do that a compact that’s been worked out between the governors and between the states is the right way to go. States are the ones who build these kinds of understandings. The federal government shouldn’t meddle in that compact.
Salazar’s Press Secretary Matt Lee-Ashley responded to Romney’s comments: “Either Senator McCain is so out of touch with Western water issues that he needs the former Massachusetts governor to defend him, or he really has some interest in overhauling the law of the river that has been in place since 1922. Both scenarios are troubling.”
ProgressNowAction has a petition telling McCain to keep his hands off Colorado’s water.
At Climate Progress, Joe Romm explains how “McCain’s gaffe is both bad policy and bad politics.”