Steamboat Springs Imagine if there were less water available for raising Northwest Colorado's cattle and sheep. The added costs to Colorado agriculture for feed and water would be an additional tax on Colorado's ranchers, farmers and consumers. Yet a few days ago, John McCain said that the water-sharing compact that Colorado and other upper basin states have with California, Nevada and Arizona should be "renegotiated" to provide more water to Arizona and California. Apparently, McCain is more concerned about the golf courses and swimming pools of Arizona than he is about Colorado. McCain's policies would hurt Colorado. Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, a water law expert, responded to McCain's proposal to give away Colorado's water by saying that the compact would be reopened "over my dead body."
The water compact that McCain was referring to is the 1922 Colorado River Compact. That compact allocates 7.5 million acre-feet of water to California, Nevada and McCain's home state of Arizona in normal years. An equal 7.5 million acre-feet of water is split among Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Although McCain seems not to realize it, in December 2007 the Compact was renegotiated to adjust for water shortage conditions. Because there has been this recent renegotiation, there is no basis for McCain's proposal to reconsider the Compact again.
For those of us who are not ranchers or water law experts, it may not be clear how McCain's Western water policy negatively affects us. Simply put, Colorado's population is increasing, and its water resources are declining. We need to keep more water in our state. According to the Sierra Club's Southwest Regional Director, scientists have predicted a 10 to 30 percent reduction of water flow in the Colorado River because of long-term drought and higher temperatures associated with climate change in the Southwest. Additionally, Colorado is experiencing significant growth on the Front Range and has water demands associated with potential energy production in our state.
Colorado's population will grow by several million people in the next 20 years. Our electric power generation requirements for this population growth also will require huge amounts of water. In view of all this, the voters of Colorado need to preserve their water supply and be very wary of McCain's proposal to allow Arizona and California to grab additional Colorado River water.