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Letter to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, on the Budget Requests for Flood Control Purposes.

August 08, 1951

Dear Kenneth:

I am transmitting today supplemental estimates of appropriations for flood control work for the fiscal year 1952. At the same time, I wish to urge the Congress to restore the funds eliminated by the House of Representatives from the original budget requests for fiscal year 1952 for flood control and river and harbor development. The House cut my budget requests for this important work by nearly 20 per cent in passing H.R. 4386, the Army civil functions appropriations bill for the fiscal year 1952, which is now before your committee.

I believe this cut was false economy. The budget requests included funds for only the minimum necessary work on flood control and river and harbor work that has already been started, plus funds to start four new projects which in addition to their flood control and navigation benefits will produce hydroelectric power urgently needed as part of our defense mobilization effort. The House action would prevent any of the new projects from being started, would force the suspension of work on some projects now underway, and would seriously delay work on a whole range of projects in many parts of the country.

We can spend little enough on this kind of work in emergency times like the present. For the last several years I have not been able to include in the budget as much money for flood control and river and harbor work as I would have liked, because of the urgent need for large expenditures for national security. In the 1952 budget especially, the requests for funds for civil public works were limited very sharply in view of the increased need to devote Government funds and scarce materials and manpower to national security purposes. The 1952 budget requests for this work were at a bare minimum when I transmitted them to the Congress. I do not believe they can safely be cut further.

The recent flood disaster in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois has shown the immense damage that can result from a single flood situation. The only way to prevent such damage is to move ahead steadily on a program to control flood waters; the work of the Army Corps of Engineers which is financed by this bill is a vital part of that program. The cuts made by the House will simply increase the risk that other floods, like the one that culminated in the disaster in the Kansas River basin three weeks ago, will catch us unprepared.

As a result of the recent floods, the agencies of the Executive Branch have reviewed the situation to see whether any parts of our flood control work should be accelerated.

The major conclusion of this review is that the program provided for in the fiscal year 1952 budget should go ahead. This program was carefully planned as part of our long-range effort to use and control our water resources to prevent floods, provide navigation, produce power, and bring other benefits. We know the work that has been budgeted will be good, sound work. It should be approved.

It is now clear that we should go further than the 1952 budget program. The recent floods in the Kansas area were greater than the estimated peak flood on which our previous planning had been based. Furthermore, if the heavy rain had fallen a few miles north of where it did, the flood in the Kansas River basin would have been even worse than it was. This requires us to re-examine our plans.

In the meantime, as a step toward meeting the problem, I am now recommending that an additional $21,800,000 be appropriated to carry forward certain work that we know will be necessary. These funds will provide for work on the Tuttle Creek and Toronto Dams in Kansas and the Oologah Dam in Oklahoma, for local flood protection work at Hutchinson and Wichita, Kansas, for bank stabilization work on the Arkansas River, and for levee work on the Mississippi River between Wood River, Illinois, and East Cape Girardeau, Illinois.

I believe that these funds should be added to the total appropriation, and not substituted for something that was already recommended in the budget. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of steady, well planned progress in this field--as contrasted with hasty, stop-and-go action, prompted by temporary incidents. The task of controlling our great rivers to benefit our people is a long-range task, which must be tackled with long-range plans. This is a lesson that has been taught us over and over again, but too many people have not yet learned it.

We have, indeed, made progress. Since the end of World War II, in spite of the pressing demand for defense and foreign aid outlays--both essential to our national security-Government expenditures for river and harbor, flood control, and navigation projects have been large. In the four fiscal years 1948 through 1951, Federal expenditures for these essential improvements totaled 2.2 billion dollars. This amount is about equal to the entire Federal investment for river and harbor, flood control, and navigation work during the previous century and a haft.

Even these large sums, however, have only given us a start toward our long-range needs in many areas. For example, the Corps of Engineers has only two major reservoirs-Kanopolis and Harlan County--completed or near completion in the Kansas River basin, where most of the flood damage occurred in July. Several more reservoirs will have to be built--plus a lot of other work necessary for effective flood control--before we can be reasonably sure of controlling a major flood in that area.

In the face of this sort of need, cuts in the present budget requests would patently be false economy, just as previous cuts have been. Shortsighted opponents of orderly development of our water resources who have labeled river and harbor and flood control improvements as "pork," "fat," or "extravagance" have left their mark in the failure to do enough to develop our rivers. It is a pity that this has had to be underlined time and again by the devastation wrought by floods.

The budget requests now before the Congress are part of an orderly program for the development of our great rivers--a program founded on the principle that continued steady improvement in the harnessing of our water resources is essential to the economic growth and development of the nation. The budget requests take account of the economic and financial demands of our national security programs.

The demands of our national security reinforce the urgency of many of the projects included in the budget--projects in the planning stage, under construction, and proposed for starting construction. In particular, this is true of six projects: the redevelopment of Niagara Falls, for which additional planning funds are needed; Albeni Falls Dam in Idaho, which is under construction; and Old Hickory Lock and Dam in the Cumberland River basin, Gavins Point Dam in the Missouri River basin, and Ice Harbor and the Dalles Dams in the Pacific Northwest, on all of which construction should be started immediately. All of these projects will yield substantial amounts of hydroelectric power, in addition to other benefits. Yet all of them would be stopped cold by the House cuts.

An expanded capacity to produce power is one of the most urgent needs of our defense mobilization program, and it is especially urgent in the areas where these projects are to be built. These projects are all sound investments of public funds. They represent precisely the kind of sensible enlargement of our basic economic strength which we must have--not only in the next year or two, but as long ahead as we can foresee--if we are to counter successfully the long-range Soviet threat to our national security.

The Corps of Engineers should go rapidly ahead on these and the other projects for which I have recommended funds in the budget or in the present supplemental estimates. I strongly recommend that those funds be approved in full by the Congress.

Sincerely yours,


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

Note: On October 24, 1951, the President signed H.R. 4386, the Civil Functions Appropriation Act, 1952 (65 Stat. 616).

Harry S Truman, Letter to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, on the Budget Requests for Flood Control Purposes. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230555

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