Wet and Not So Wild: Obama and McCain’s Water Resource Policy

How do the candidates' records stack up against their water use policy answers?
voting at the polls
Arnaud Jaegers/Unsplash

Question 10: Water Policy

Of all the answers to the Science Debate 2008 questions, Senators McCain and Obama’s answers to the water policy question were the shortest and least detailed. Similarly, their records on this issue are virtually nonexistent, much like every other Senator’s record on this issue.

It seems as though water policy brings politicians together more than any single issue. While Defense Department appropriation bills, education bills and energy bills usually garner one or two symbolic nays or non-votes, almost every water use bill receives unanimous support.

The bills range from the all encompassing, like HR 2419, the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2006, to the maddeningly specific, like S 1219, a bill for authorizing certain tribes in the State of Montana to enter into a lease or other temporary conveyance of water rights to meet the water needs of the Dry Prairie Rural Water Association, Inc, of 2006. Yes, that’s the actual name of the bill.

The amazing thing about these bills is that they always pass with unanimous consent. S 891—a bill to extend the water service contract for the Ainsworth Unit, Sandhills Division, Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, Nebraska? Every Senator voted “Aye”. But why would McCain and Obama vote for bills that cost their tax payers money but do nothing to help their constituency? Maybe because then they can propose a bill like S 3501, the bill to amend the Shivwits Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Water Rights Settlement Act to establish an acquisition fund for the water rights and habitat acquisition program, and be sure it was going to pass. Senator McCain proposed that bill on June 13, 2006, and that November the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent.

Another reason for this unanimity is that the water bills have virtually no impact on actual water use policy. According to Joseph Dellapenna, Professor of Law at Villanova University who specializes in water use law, “Water allocation, who gets to use water for what purpose, is decided on the state level. I’m not aware that any candidate or any member of congress is pushing to federalize it.”

So does their voting record support their Science Debate answers? Yes for some parts of their answers, but more importantly, does it matter? This is an issue which even the President largely steers clear from. Even when one of the candidates becomes President, water resource policy will most likely not resemble their Science Debate answers, as this is not an issue dealt with on a Federal level. Tomorrow, the candidates spend some time talking about the final frontier. Be prepared, because in politics, no one can here you scream.

After a year of winnowing down questions from 38,000 scientists and citizens, Science Debate 2008 sent 14 covering health, research, the environment and science to the presidential candidates. Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama answered the questions, and their answers can be read here. However, it’s easy for a politician to make promises, so _PopSci investigated both senator’s voting records to see if their history matched up with their promises for the future. Each day for the next two weeks we’ll present an analysis of the candidate’s voting records as compared with their answers to the ScienceDebate2008 questions. You can follow the entire series at popsci.com/election, where you can also sign up for an RSS feed._