Apparently one-upping State Sen. Pat Wiggins, John McCain today explained in the health care summit that “we Arizonans hate California because they stole our water.”
Aside from being a further example of how much McCain has descended into bitter old man territory, his remark is also massively inaccurate. In 1922 the Colorado River Compact was agreed to by the states that border the river. Notably absent was Mexico, which has seen the mouth of the Colorado almost totally dry up since the 1922 compact. The compact gave California 58.7% of the annual flow of the Colorado’s lower basin, Arizona got 37.3%, and Nevada (at the time populated by tumbleweeds) got 4%. Arizona didn’t call it “theft” at the time, and the Supreme Court upheld the compact in 1963.
Later, when Phoenix began to grow, Arizona wanted to revisit the deal, and did so in order to get the Central Arizona Project aqueduct built. The CAP helped fuel Arizona’s rapid growth, especially after 1980.
As anyone who’s spent any time in Arizona knows, a lot of that growth came from Californians moving to the Grand Canyon State in the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s in search of cheaper housing or new business opportunities. (I was nearly one of them, until my parents thankfully decided to stay in Orange County.) Apparently it’s OK for Arizona to steal Californians, but not OK for Californians to drink the water they’re entitled to under the 1922 compact.
That compact is a deeply flawed document, but not for the reasons McCain says. It was written at a time of unusually high flows on the Colorado River – about 16.4 million acre feet per year. Recent studies indicate the typical flow is closer to 13 million acre feet per year. In short, California and Arizona and Nevada are all writing checks Mother Nature can’t cash. Lake Mead’s levels have been dropping for years, and the Colorado River rarely reaches the Gulf of California any longer.
So McCain’s reaction? He wants to steal Colorado’s water to allow Arizona to sprawl ever-deeper into the bone-dry Sonora Desert. In short, McCain thinks it’s wrong for CA to steal from AZ, but perfectly acceptable for AZ to steal from CO. Maybe he’s just bitter that he lost CO in the ’08 election.
Of course, McCain is being more than a bit hypocritical here. He and his wife Cindy own three homes in California – one in La Jolla and two in Coronado. For someone who “hates California” he sure does seem to like our coastline.
Which, as you might have guessed, gets some of its drinking water from the Colorado River.
In short, McCain may be stealing water from Arizona every time he turns on the tap, takes a shower, or waters the lawn at his California homes.