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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee: The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan

March 28, 2019

Opening Statement of Ranking Member Tom McClintock.
House Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife
March 28, 2019

The Subcommittee meets today to consider the Colorado Drought Contingency Plan, agreed to by all of the states that draw from the Colorado River Basin.

The dams on the Colorado have been the foundation of the prosperity of the Western states that rely on them to store water from wet years to assure abundance in dry ones.  Forty million people and 5 ½ million acres of productive farmland now depend on the water stored behind these dams and 4,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity their turbines generate.      

Both natural and man-made developments have brought us to this juncture.

The first is the continuing drought in the American Southwest.  Precipitation in most of the continental United States has increased considerably since the turn of the last century -- almost 2/10ths of an inch per decade.  The exception is the Southwest, which has seen a decrease in precipitation in the same period as weather patterns have shifted.  

In addition, the original allocations of Colorado River water were set back in 1922, during a period of unusually high precipitation, thus building into the system an overestimate of available system-wide supply.  

As Yogi Berra famously observed, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  The good news is that the Upper Colorado Snowpack is currently 128 percent of normal for the year.  February precipitation was well above the 30-year median, double in most places, and this month is likely the be the wettest March on record in the Colorado Basin.  

But one good year is no guarantee the 19-year drought is over, and prudence and experience both warn us of the need to be prepared.  Droughts have plagued this region from time immemorial – over the last 1,200 years there have been five periods with droughts equal or greater than this one.  Indeed, in the mid-1100s, the region experienced a 25-year drought.  History is desperately warning us to be prepared.  

And one thing is absolutely certain about the future of the Colorado River Basin: demand for water will continue to increase with population, while the supply of water will continue to fluctuate.  That is the fine point of the matter and an inescapable reality we cannot ignore.

It is a remarkable development that seven of the most politically diverse states in the nation could find agreement on something as controversial as reduced water allocations, but that miracle is before us today.  I think we would be well-advised to show a little humility and defer to the judgment of the states that directly depend on the water allocations set forth in this contingency plan.  

During the miracle at Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin observed that the principle difference between the Catholic and Protestant religions was that the Catholics believed their church is infallible while the Protestants believed that their church is never wrong.  His advice to them that day – which I believe is entirely applicable here – is that we should each doubt a little of our own infallibility and in this case, approve this compact.