Last week, Senator John McCain told Colorado's Pueblo Chieftan that he thought the 1922 Colorado River Compact should be renegotiated due to the increasing demand for water in downstream states to account for population changes and increased water demand in places like Nevada, Arizona, and southern California. This has made folks in Colorado none too happy. According to Bob Ewegen, this is the sort of thing that could (and should) cost McCain Colaorado's nine elctoral votes come November.
The problem, from Colorado's perspective, is that in the 76 years since the compact was signed, California, Nevada and Arizona have grown much more rapidly in population — and political power — than the upper basin states. So 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.Someone should have reminded McCain that in Colorado whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.
However politically ham-handed McCain's comments were, they were no better as a matter of policy. There's no need to renegotiate the water allocations and take water away from upstream states. Rather, if Arizona, Nevada, and California demand more water, they should simply pay for it. The best way to deal with shifts in water supply and demand brought about by demographic and environmental changes is through water markets. Particularly if current projections about the effect of climate change on Western water supplies are accurate, the West needs more robust water markets, not more administrative reallocations or "renegotiations."