Last week I posted Barack Obama’s response to a presidential candidate questionnaire on water policy sponsored by Science Debate 2008. John McCain has now responded with the following statement (see the previous post on this subject for the question posed to the candidates and more background info):
As a westerner, I understand the vital role that water plays in the development of western economies and to maintaining a high quality of life. Water is truly our lifeblood. I believe that we must develop, manage, and use our limited water supplies wisely and with a conservation ethic to ensure that we have sufficient supplies to meet municipal, tribal, industrial, agricultural, recreational, and environmental needs. I believe that water rights must be respected, and that disputes are better resolved not in the courts but through negotiations that build consensus, and provide justly for the needs of the west’s diverse interests and needs. I understand the importance of state law and local prerogatives in the allocation of water resources, and that all levels of government must work together with stakeholders to ensure that our lifeblood is protected, managed, and utilized in a wise, just, and sustainable manner.
I support constructive, continuing cooperation and dialogue among the states and the water users in a manner that is fully consistent with existing compacts and agreements. This is an approach that is forward looking, and ensures cooperation in achieving implementation of water agreements among the states and the Department of the Interior and is mindful of potential technological developments that could potentially reduce water demands in certain areas.
Two things are noteworthy about John McCain’s answer. First, substantively his answer is very similar to Barack Obama’s answer to the same question. They both recognize that water policy is shaped by all levels of government and thus cooperation between federal, state, and local governments is an important starting point. They also both stress the need for water conservation and innovation in water efficiency. Interestingly, unlike Obama, McCain does not mention using water pricing to more efficiently allocate limited water resources, instead describing water as “our lifeblood.” In this respect, McCain’s answer is probably more in line with the thinking of liberal environmental and water rights groups.
Second, McCain’s answer explicitly demonstrates his western perspective on water issues. He seems to think that water shortages and management problems are unique to the west. Certainly the western states have more experience with long-term regional water disputes, but the next President’s administration must be prepared to work on eastern water issues as well. I’m a bit troubled by McCain’s specific reference to involving the federal Department of Interior (which is very prominent in the west) without any reference to the federal agencies that play a significant role in water management in the east (notably the Corps of Engineers). The first interstate water crisis that will face the next President may well be in the southeast, not the mountain west.
A final note: One the leading organizations behind Science Debate 2008, Scientists and Engineers for America, has posed the same question on water policy to Congressional candidates. You can find your Congressional district by Zip Code and see your candidates’ answers at SEA’s Innovation & the Elections 2008 website.