Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remarks at Louisville, Kentucky.

July 08, 1938

Mr. Mayor, Senator Barkley, friends of Louisville:

This is the first chance I have had to come to' Louisville since the great flood of last year.

First of all, I want to congratulate you and also the citizens of other communities who suffered so greatly from that flood on the firm courage and the fine spirit with which you met that disaster.

Your Mayor told me a few minutes ago that every cloud seems to have its silver lining. Very certainly, in the case of Louisville, the flood reestablished human nature and made you all better neighbors to each other.

Not only in the crisis of a great flood but also in the long process of rebuilding, you have exemplified the spirit of self-help and cooperation between citizens and with the agencies of government.

I want to tell you in a very few words of another gain from that disaster. When I went to Washington, nearly six years ago, I found there were many different agencies of the Government concerned with disasters, and each one of them worked hard in its own line of work. But, there was no coordination among them.

That flood last year on the Ohio and the Mississippi gave me an opportunity to test out the new machinery I had created to meet national disasters. Last year, when the rain began to fall on the furthest creeks, in the upper reaches of the upper tributaries of the Ohio, all of the Federal agencies, working with the State agencies, were able to meet in cooperative efforts to combat the flood as it worked its way down toward the sea.

Through that leadership of coordination and especially through the leadership of a great American who unfortunately has passed on—Admiral Cary Grayson of the American Red Cross—all of the agencies; the Red Cross itself, the Army Engineers, the Corps Area Commanders, the Public Health Service, the Army and Navy Medical Corps, the lifeboats of the Navy and their crews, the Works Progress Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard—all worked under a united leadership and threw all the resources of the Federal Government to the assistance of life and the salvaging of property.

Also as a result of that flood, we, in Washington, have worked out a definite national policy. The Ohio Basin and other great river basins subject to floods can and are going to be made safe for our American civilization.

Of course we are not going to pay for it all. We are proceeding on the definite policy that every community will gladly do as much of its share of the work of flood prevention as the community can properly afford, and that over and above those contributions your Federal Government is assuming responsibility. That is another proof of the necessity of planning. A lot of people laugh about all the planning we are doing in Washington. But, in the long run, taking just flood prevention as one of the many examples, we shall save hundreds of millions of dollars by planning for the future.

Flood prevention pays. It pays even if the Federal Government has to create a temporary deficit by borrowing money for flood prevention works at this time.

In one of our great national watersheds—before the Federal Government stepped in with planning and with work—the average loss of property in a given year ran as high as twenty-five million dollars. That was just property alone—twenty-five million dollars a year without counting the toll of human lives-twenty-five millions of property damage to crops, to homes, to industrial plants, to highways and railways. It seems to me that, as a matter of practical business sense, it is well worth our while to spend, yes, two or three hundred million dollars on a watershed of that kind if thereby and for all time we can eliminate an annual loss of twenty-five million dollars.

On another watershed, the Missouri, the figures relating to the destruction of buildings and highways and industrial plants are not as great in annual loss as they are in other places but, in the case of the Missouri River and its tributaries, a careful checkup shows that thousands and thousands of acres of rich bottom land are being carried every year down to the Gulf of Mexico. Those lands are worth millions of dollars even as they are today. Think of their worth to the generations to come. Think of what they are worth, in terms of dollars, for the production of foodstuffs for future generations.

Here again, I think it is a mighty good business proposition to spend money now to save vast sums in future years.

Flood prevention is a national problem. The people of the Ohio Valley understand this and, I am sure, approve our intentions—under a well coordinated plan- to make the Ohio Basin flood proof; flood proof for our children and for their children.

In this work of planning and coordinating work on a vast scale, I want to acknowledge the splendid assistance I have received from the senior Senator from Kentucky. This is a national problem. We need people of national experience with a national point of view to carry it out.

I wish I could stay here longer and see all of the work that you have done. I have been tremendously interested in it. From many sources, not Louisville sources alone but people who have visited here from every part of the Union, I have been given reports of the splendid work of rehabilitation you have carried out. Some day I hope to be able to come back here and stay a little longer.

There is only one advantage I have over you good people: I am going to get bigger fish in the Pacific than you can get in the Ohio.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks at Louisville, Kentucky. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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