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Letter to Senator McKdlar on the Need for Restoring Funds for Flood Control.

April 25, 1952

Dear Kenneth:

On April 2, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7268, the Army civil functions appropriations bill for the fiscal year 1953. In doing so, the House reduced my budget requests for flood control and river and harbor development by 29 percent. The effect of this reduction would be to stop construction on a number of projects now underway, to slow down work on many others, and to prevent starting certain new projects which I included in the 1953 Budget.

Within ten days after the House action, the false economy of any such move was demonstrated--demonstrated in havoc and destruction by floods on the Missouri River, the upper Mississippi River, and the Red River of the North. The terrible damage that has been done--and is still being done-by flood waters in the Midwest is inescapable evidence that we must move ahead with water control projects as rapidly as we can afford to in these times of budgetary stringency.

Accordingly, I strongly recommend that your Committee and the Senate restore the funds cut out by the House and approve the full amount of the budget recommendations for these purposes.

I appreciate the desire of the Members of the House to hold budget expenditures for civil public works to a minimum at a time when we have to put so much money into national security programs. I had the same thought in mind when I prepared the Budget. I deferred or eliminated, in this emergency Budget, many projects which would bring clear benefits to the Nation and would be highly desirable in normal times, and I included funds for starting new projects only when they were clearly of such urgency that they could not be deferred.

I firmly believe that to cut below the Budget estimates would lose us far more than would be "saved." There is no economy in spending less than we can afford on our efforts to stop these disastrous floods.

This is well illustrated by the projects on the upper Missouri. Four dams are under construction there: Garrison in North Dakota, Oahe and fort Randall in South Dakota, and Gavins Point on the South Dakota-Nebraska border. If all four had been finished, they could have caught and held this spring's flood waters and prevented any serious damage along the main stem of the Missouri. And yet the House action would stop work entirely on two of them, and slow down the other two--very possibly delaying for a year the scheduled closure of Garrison Dam, the largest reservoir of them all. Until those dams are finished, the people of the Missouri Basin can have no assurance against a repetition of this spring's disaster. I can see no economy whatever in delaying that time any longer than we have to.

The same thing is true of the other projects in the 1953 Budget. Every one of them is thoroughly justified--including projects other than those which will yield primarily flood control benefits, and projects other than those in the present flood area. The Budget contains funds, for example, for starting Ice Harbor Dam in Washington and Hartwell Dam in South Carolina, both of which will yield very badly needed power, and both of which have a close relation to the atomic energy installations nearby. The Budget also contains funds to start Tuttle Creek and Glen Elder Dams in Kansas (the latter being in the Interior Department budget estimates), and for flood protection work at Topeka, Kansas, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri-those being the most important flood control projects needed in the Kansas-Missouri area where last year's ravaging floods occurred. All these projects are urgently needed, and yet all were entirely cut out by the House.

I think the House action was thoroughly unsound. The proper way to stop flood destruction, and to turn our rivers into sources of benefit instead of destruction, is to move forward steadily, year by year, toward the orderly and economic completion of projects now underway and from time to time to start a few of the most urgent new projects on a highly selective basis. That is exactly the program incorporated in the Budget. It would be thrown into wasteful confusion by the House action. These problems cannot be handled efficiently on an intermittent, stop-and-go basis. They need steady, orderly progress, such as the Budget provides for.

I should like to take note of one additional point. It was claimed in the House that all new work in the Missouri Basin should be held up until the Missouri Basin Survey Commission, which I established in January, makes its report. No one knows better than I that we need more comprehensive and better balanced planning for future development in the Missouri Basin--and in most other areas. That is why I set up the Commission. But, as I indicated when I established the Commission, it provides no excuse whatever for failing to proceed with projects which we now know are sound and beneficial and urgently needed. That is the type of project--and the only type--which I included in the 1953 Budget.

We must stop these rampaging floods and this terrible damage to farms and farm buildings, to homes and business districts in towns and cities. Last week, I visited the flooded areas along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Last year, I visited the flooded areas in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. In previous years, I have seen the floods in the Pacific Northwest and the Red River of the North and other areas. They have all been terrible. They have caused terrific economic losses and human suffering. They must be stopped. And we know how to stop them.

I wish every Member of Congress could see these flooded areas and walk through the devastation that floods leave behind. I don't think there would be any question then about approving the budget recommendations for controlling the waters in our great rivers and using them for good instead of letting them go on a rampage.

I believe the Budget for these projects is just as tight as it can properly be made. I believe it would be wasteful, instead of economical, to appropriate less. I hope your Committee and the Congress will restore the funds for flood control and related work that the House cut out.

Sincerely yours,


[The Honorable Kenneth McKellar, Chairman, Appropriations Committee, United States Senate, Washington 25, D.C.]

Note: On July 11, 1952, the President approved the Civil functions Appropriations Act, 1953 (66 Stat. 579), which provided funds for Army civil functions.
See also Items 3, 32, 97.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to Senator McKdlar on the Need for Restoring Funds for Flood Control. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230585

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