In Pueblo, McCain deflects criticism over western water |

In Pueblo, McCain deflects criticism over western water

The Associated Press
summit daily news
Joe Mahoney/Rocky Mountain NewsJohn McCain fields a question from an audience member Thursday in Denver, as part of his two-day swing through the state

PUEBLO ” John McCain promised southern Colorado voters Friday he will never seek a renogotiation of the Colorado River compact, trying to bury a controversy he triggered by suggesting this summer that the Western water-sharing agreement could be changed.

“Water is too precious,” he told a cheering crowd in Pueblo, which wanted to hear it from McCain himself. “Thank you for the water.”

McCain stirred up a hornet’s nest when he told The Pueblo Chieftain newspaper that the 1922 compact should be “renegotiated over time.” His remarks drew outrage from Colorado Republicans and Democrats who fear arid southwestern states ” including McCain’s home state of Arizona ” could draw more from the Colorado River.

The compact allocates the river among lower basin states ” Arizona, California and Nevada ” and upper basin states ” Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

An estimated 30 million people rely on the Colorado River for their water, said John Singletary, chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Bob Massengale, who has a 10-acre cattle ranch near Salida, said he breathed a sigh of relief after McCain’s promise Friday. “I think he just misspoke,” said

Massengale, who needs his water for hay. He added that he trusts McCain more than he does his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

“Obama doesn’t understand water. I haven’t heard him say a thing about it,” Massengale said.

Despite McCain’s assurances ” including a letter he wrote after the newspaper interview in which he advocated dialogue among the seven states “in a way that is fully consistent with the compact” ” Democrats weren’t willing to let it go.

At a Pueblo press conference Thursday, Sal Pace, who is running for a state House seat, brought a bag of straws to symbolize how, he said, McCain would “suck the water out of Colorado.”

Both candidates ran television commercials this week on the issue.

In Pueblo, a Democratic stronghold in southeast Colorado, McCain courted Hispanic voters, and he was introduced by Hispanic city councilwoman Vera Ortegon. He praised Ortegon as well as Sarah Palin, his running mate, for her debate performance against Joe Biden.

“Viva la Sarah-cuda!” he shouted to cheers.

McCain supporters say he has an opportunity to carry Pueblo County in November.

The last Republican to do so was Richard Nixon.

“Pueblo County is a conservative county, even with Democrats,” said county Republican Party chairman David Dill.

Dill said McCain made a mistake taking on the water issue in a region where water is liquid gold.

“It’s one of those things where if he thought ahead, he would have stated it differently,” Dill said.

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