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Letter to the Chairman of the President's Water Resources Policy Commission.

January 03, 1950

Dear Mr. Cooke:

For more than a century, the Federal Government has played a vital role in harnessing our water resources and converting them to the beneficial and productive use of the Nation.

Over this period our water resources policies have been constantly modified and adjusted to meet the emerging needs of our complex and dynamic society. It has not always been possible, however, to decide individual changes in policy in the light of broad national objectives. Frequently, new policies which have been developed to meet specific situations or to solve particular social and economic needs existing at the time have produced inconsistencies in our national water resources policies.

Within the past several years the need for careful review and reappraisal of our national water resources policies and related land use problems has become increasingly apparent. On several occasions, during the recent session of Congress, I called attention to the need for developing a consistent and comprehensive policy with regard to our whole water resources program. In many cases, piece-meal or partial approaches to a problem as broad as water resources development tend to confuse, rather than clarify, many of the basic, underlying issues. It is essential in my judgment that a comprehensive study and review be made of all existing water resources legislation and policies and that recommendations be made in the full knowledge of national needs and objectives.

Therefore, I am creating by Executive order a temporary Water Resources Policy Commission of seven members to study and to make recommendations to me on the policies which should be followed by the Federal Government in fulfilling its proper responsibilities for the development, conservation and use of the Nation's water resources.

I am asking you to serve as chairman of this Commission. Because of the need for early action in the field of water resources development, I am requesting the Commission to submit its final report to me not later than December 1, 1950.

In asking you and your fellow members of the Commission to undertake this highly difficult assignment, I cannot stress its importance too greatly.

The Federal Government already has a substantial investment in existing water resources improvements; in recent years we have been adding to this investment at a rate of more than $1 billion annually. These facts alone make it imperative that individual projects be properly related to the total water resources program, that they be undertaken in logical and orderly sequence and that they be scheduled to conform to fiscal and other national considerations. It is even more important, however, that the policies underlying these programs be soundly conceived in terms of national needs and objectives and that they are adopted in the light of our goal of a stable and expanding national economy.

While the number of individual issues in the water resources field is large, I hope that the Commission will devote its attention to major areas of immediate importance and to those special aspects of resource development programs which have a major immediate effect on the well-being and proper functioning of the Nation's economy.

The Executive order establishing the Water Resources Policy Commission states that the Commission shall give consideration in particular to (a) the extent and character of Federal Government participation in major water resources programs, (b) an appraisal of the priority of water resources programs from the standpoint of economic and social need, (c) criteria and standards for evaluating the feasibility of such projects, and (d) desirable legislation or changes in existing legislation.

These all represent areas in which there is pressing need for clarification of our national policies and responsibilities.

In requesting the Commission to undertake this highly difficult and important assignment, I recognize that it will not be possible to formulate recommendations on all of the current issues before us in time for consideration in the forthcoming session of the Congress; however, much basic work has already been done within the Government and elsewhere with respect to many issues involved in our water resources program. It is my hope, therefore, that it will be possible for the Commission to submit interim recommendations to me on some of the more urgent issues which have been raised in order that specific proposals can be submitted to the Congress in time for action this year.

As you know, the Commission on the Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government has made a detailed and comprehensive study of the organizational issues involved in the water resources field. The proper allocation of functions among agencies, the means for coordinating their efforts and the merits of various alternatives for coordination of river basin development programs are now under active consideration in the Executive Branch. I have already made certain recommendations to the Congress in these areas and expect to transmit others during the coming months. While problems of organization are closely related to the development of consistent policies in the field of water resources, I am requesting your Commission to confine its recommendations to the questions of policy set forth in the Executive order together with related legislation.

Very sincerely yours,


[Honorable Morris L. Cooke, St. Georges Road, Mr. Airy P.O., Philadelphia 19, Pennsylvania.]

Note: The President's Water Resources Policy Commission was established by Executive Order 10095 of January 3, 1950 (3 CFR, 1949-1953 Comp., p. 291).

On the same day the President appointed the following members: Morris L. Cooke, engineer, Philadelphia, Pa., chairman; R. R. Renne, president, Montana State College; Lewis W. Jones, president, University of Arkansas; Gilbert White, president, Haveford College; Samuel B. Morris, Department of Water and Power, Los Angeles, Calif.; Paul S. Burgess, dean, College of Agriculture, University of Arizona; and Leland D. Olds, New York City.

The Commission's report was contained in three volumes. Volume 1, entitled "A Water Policy for the American People (General Report)," was submitted to the President on December 11, 1950 (see Item 306).

Harry S Truman, Letter to the Chairman of the President's Water Resources Policy Commission. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230320

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