John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks in Los Banos, California, at the Ground-Breaking Ceremonies for the San Luis Dam

August 18, 1962

Congressman Sisk, Mr. Congressman, my old friend and colleague in the Congress; Governor Brown; Senator Kuchel; Senator Eagle; Congressman Bizz Johnson; Senator Richards; Mr. Brody; Mrs. O'Neill; Mr. Mayor; Secretary Udall; Under Secretary Carr, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a pleasure for me to come out here and help plow up this valley in the cause of progress. We are able to do anything on this occasion.

I do want to say that this has been a comparatively short trip, to come all the way from the Capital of our country in Washington yesterday morning, about 9 o'clock, and to fly and visit the largest earth-rolled dam in the world in Pierre, S. Dak.; to visit the beginning of the great new project, the fryingpan-Arkansas, where they're going to take water from around 9,000 feet through a mountain and irrigate a whole valley below in eastern Colorado; and then to visit Yosemite National Park, which belongs to all of us, fortunately, and join 1,500,000 ether Americans who will visit that park this year, and follow in the footsteps of a distinguished predecessor, who was the last President to visit there, President Theodore Roosevelt.

This is a fast trip, but if it had no other benefit than to permit us to look at this valley and others like it across the country, where we can see the greenest and richest earth producing the greatest and richest crops in the country, and then a mile away see the same earth and see it brown and dusty and useless, and all because there's water in one place and there isn't in another. I know of no better trip for any President or any Member of the House or Senate, or indeed any citizen, particularly those of us who live in the East, where water is everywhere and is a burden, to realize how very precious it is here in the western United States.

And I'm also glad to come from Washington where we are constantly struggling and seeing progress being made almost imperceptibly, to come and visit three areas, South Dakota, Colorado, and here, where progress is being made. And the important lesson in all of those projects is that progress isn't being made as a result of a sudden idea, suddenly coming into fruition.

This project, the fryingpan-Arkansas, and the project in South Dakota, represented 10, 20, and 30 years' efforts of devoted citizens. Things do not happen; they are made to happen, and this project is the result, and our action today, of 30 years of men, some of whom have now died, who thought that this dam would help this valley.

The other point that I think has been most useful about this trip is to see how Americans can work together. We are a very independent people, 180 million, and it is hard for us to agree on any course of action. We always have some different ideas of how that course of action can be made more perfect, and yet in this case, one part of your State has been willing to help another part. In the case of Colorado, western Colorado has been willing to divide its water with eastern Colorado. In the case of this project, and Colorado and South Dakota, the people from the Eastern United States have been willing to invest their tax money in this part of the country because they realize that as this State does well, so does the United States.

Nothing could be more disastrous for this country than for the citizens of one part of the State to feel that everything that they have is theirs and it should not be shared with other citizens of this State, or people from the East to say, "There's no benefit to us in spending our money to make this valley green."

That is the way to stand still. The way to move ahead is to realize that we are citizens of one country who can freely move from one State to another, and as one State does well, so do the others, and if one State stands still, so do all the rest.

Progress represents the combined will of the American people, and only when they are joined together for action, instead of standing still and thinking that everything that had to be done has been done. It's only when they join together in a forward movement that this country moves ahead and that we prepare the way for those who come after us, as Mr. O'Neill and others who made this project possible 20 years ago prepared the way for us.

So I'm glad to come here, and I think it's a useful trip for any citizen and any President of the United States.

What this project also symbolizes is the State working with the federal Government, the local communities working with the State. This program is unique in this area. There is no other project in the history of the United States where a State has put in such a large contribution to the development of its own resources, and where the National Government has joined with the State.

This is a unique ceremony, because this partnership is at the highest level. The amount of contribution of both is unique and special, and the benefits that will come from it are unique and special. And I think that those who took part in this and made it possible should feel the strongest sense of pride, because all those years when people in this State said it was impossible--and those who had water wanted to hug it and not make it available to all those who lived in dry areas--many State administrations in California, including some of the most distinguished, wrestled with this problem. But I believe that all Californians will remember the leadership which your distinguished Governor has given to this great cause of making water available to the people of this State. And I salute him for it and the Members of your Congressional Delegation who fought for this and the members of the legislature, the House and the Senate, here in California.

This has brought your State to be the pioneer in the United States in the field of development and conservation of our natural resources. California, in this area, is number I, and it has helped make possible the San Luis project, which joins all of us together as full and equal partners.

In many ways the growth problems and the conservation problems of California are the same kind of problems that our country faces. To come here from the eastern United States and to realize what a booming country this really is, gives us new encouragement to consider what actions we can take in the sixties to make life easier for those who are coming in the seventies. We surmount these growth problems only if we work together, if we engage in a great cooperative effort, and learn to think of our resources in national terms.

What this country needs is a broad, new conservation effort, worthy of the two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin, who lived in New York, and who helped build the West; an effort to build up our resource heritage so that it will be available to those who come after us. Measured by major new starts and by the level of investment, 1962 will be the banner year for reclamation, but satisfactory as this record is, it is important that we push forward in these areas:

I. In addition to the Cape Cod seashore, near where I live on the Atlantic Ocean, we must add two superb national seashores to our park system, one at Point Reyes, here in California, near San Francisco, and the other on the Gulf coast of Texas.

2. We should enact without delay a strong wilderness bill, to preserve our great wilderness from the encroachment of civilization.

3. No measure is needed more than the Youth Employment Act containing provisions for a Youth Conservation Corps. As I said the other night, there are one million young men and women under 20 who are out of school and out of work. Twenty-five percent of all those under 20 who are out of school are out of work, and there will be eight million more of them if we don't do something about it in this decade. One of the things we can do is make it possible for them to work in these parks and in conservation and preventing fires and pollution and all the rest, in building our country and, in doing that, building themselves.

4- We must step up our program to convert cheap fresh water from salt water. There is no scientific breakthrough, including the trip to the moon, that will mean more to the country which first is able to bring fresh water from salt water at a competitive rate. And all those people who live in deserts around the oceans of the world will look to the nation which first makes this significant breakthrough, and I'd like to have it the United States of America.

5. The federal and the State Governments must find ways to make outdoor recreation spots available and to do it now. We're going to have 300 million people in another 40 years in this country. A lot of them are going to live in California, and a lot of them are going to live from Illinois and east, and they're going to be working shorter hours as automation and technology comes along, and where are they going to spend their time, and what beaches are they going to visit, and what forests and parks are they going to see?

Unless we take the steps today to make those facilities available to them, we will have a mass of cities which spread blight into the countryside and children growing up without ever seeing a natural, grown tree. I think we ought to do it in the 1960's, as Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt helped do it for us.

This is our task in the simplest terms: to strengthen the United States of America. And I'm confident that here in California, which looks to the future and not to the past, that you understand that lesson well. And I hope from this great project will spread a renewed sense of commitment by all the American people so that this country in 1962 can continue to move forward.

Thank you.

Note: The President's opening words referred to U.S. Representative B. F. Fisk, Governor Edmund (Pat) Brown, U.S. Senators Thomas H. Kuchel and Clair Engle, U.S. Representative Harold T. (Bizz) Johnson, and State Senator Richard Richards, all of California; and to Ralph M. Brody, General Manager and Counsel, Westlands Water District, Fresno, and chairman of the California Water Commission; Mrs. J. E. O'Neill, widow of a former president of the Westlands Water District who was one of the original planners of the project; Robert L. Puccinelli, Mayor of Los Banns; Stewart L. Udall, Secretary of the Interior; and James K. Cart, Under Secretary of the Interior.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks in Los Banos, California, at the Ground-Breaking Ceremonies for the San Luis Dam Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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