John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Dedication of the Oahe Dam, Pierre, South Dakota

August 17, 1962

Secretary Udall; our host, your distinguished Governor Gubbrud; until recently my associate at the White House, George McGovern; Secretary Vance; Members of the House and Senate; ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express my great pleasure and to tell you what a privilege it is to leave Washington these days and come out here to South Dakota. And I can think of nothing more beneficial for those of us who work in Washington, in the Nation's Capital, than to leave on occasions and come out and see the people of the United States.

These dams, these great projects, frequently are statistics to those of us who work in the Nation's Capital. And I can imagine nothing more beneficial to any American, to any Member of the House or Senate, to any member of the executive branch, to any citizen of this country, than to come here to South Dakota and realize here in this State, and in this country, there is being built the largest dam of its kind in the world.

It is a source of pleasure to me as President, therefore, to come here on this occasion. And I think it is very beneficial for us to realize how frequently the American people have worked together to provide this kind of great benefit. We are 180 million different people, with very different ideas on what we should do and how this country should be run, and where we should go, and what are our responsibilities and obligations.

I think it is important that we recognize how often we worked together to accomplish great results, and this Missouri River Basin power system, these lights going on and off, bring to our attention the remarkable progress which we've made in one generation in this country in lighting the West, in bringing the benefits of science and technology to the people who live in this part of the United States. These are benefits which are made available to all American citizens. There could be no view of this country more erroneous than Members of the Congress, or of the Executive, or the citizens of different States to believe that what happens here in South Dakota is important only to the people of South Dakota and is a matter of indifference to the people of New England or California. I can imagine no better way for this country to stand still if that should ever become our viewpoint and our mentality.

What happens in this basin helps all the people of all the country. What happens in the East helps the West; what happens in the South helps the North. This country would not have achieved the highest standard of living in the world, the largest productive power, if we had been merely 180 million different people. Instead, free and independent, and yet willing to work together, we've accomplished this, and we're going to accomplish all the other great tasks that lie before us if we are to achieve our destiny.

So I'm glad to be here, and I wish those who come and visit this country from abroad would come here. They come to New York and to Washington, and they feel they've seen America. They should come here and to Montana, and to California, and to Boston, Mass., and then they would see something of the United States.

This dam will produce enough electric energy, this one dam, to light the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. This dam alone will supply enough irrigation to serve an area larger than the nation of Luxembourg. This dam and the rest of the dams on this river, which 30 years ago would have provided only floods and darkness, now provide irrigation and light, and though those of us who are here today follow in the footsteps of those who made it possible, we share a satisfaction and also a commitment that we must, in our time, make it easy for future Presidents of the United States and future citizens in the 1970's and 1980's to visit projects like this which have been planned and carried out in our day.

Water is our most precious asset, and its potential uses are so many and so vital that they are frequently in conflict. Power versus irrigation; irrigation versus navigation; navigation versus industrial; industrial versus recreational. Here in the Missouri Basin the supply of water cannot meet all of these needs all the time. Accommodations are necessary, and in 1944, under the administration of President Roosevelt, a comprehensive Missouri Basin plan was authorized to accomplish all of these great objectives. This is the fifth of six great dams to control the mainstream of the Missouri River. I can assure those of you at the upper end of the Missouri, and our good friends at the lower end, that it will continue to be our policy to regulate the storage and the flow of water in these reservoirs in the most advantageous manner for all concerned, that the best engineers in the world can devise.

I must say that I am heartened to come out here and talk to the distinguished engineer in charge and be informed by him that this has cost $25 million less than was estimated 8 years ago, and that stands as some kind of a record in the United States today. We're going to take him back to Washington and put him in charge of the whole operation!

We take for granted these miracles of engineering, and too often we see no connection between this dam right out here and our Nation's prosperity and our Nation's security, and our leadership all around the world. The facts of the matter are that this dam, and many more like it, are as essential to the expansion and growth of the American economy as any measure that the Congress is now considering. And this dam and others like it are as essential to our national strength and security as any military alliance or missile complex.

When we are inclined to take these wonders for granted, let us remember that only a generation or two ago all the great rivers of America, the Missouri, the Columbia, the Mississippi, the Tennessee, ran to the sea unharnessed and unchecked. Their power potential was wasted. Their economic benefits were sparse. And their flooding caused an appalling destruction of life and of property. Then the vision of Theodore Roosevelt was fulfilled by Franklin Roosevelt, and to demonstrate how important this is as a national issue, two distinguished American Presidents from New York State saw how essential it was to the Nation and New York State to develop the resources of the West. And as a result this Nation began to develop its rivers systematically, to conserve its soil and its water, and to channel the destructive force of these great rivers into light and peace. And today, as a result of this, the face of this Nation has been changed. Forests are growing where there was once dirt and waste. Now there is prosperity where our poorest citizens once lived. If there is one outstanding story among all this which indicates the kind of progress we can make working together, it's the story of the REA, and of Sam Rayburn of Texas, and Franklin Roosevelt of New York, and George Norris of Nebraska.

Less than 30 years ago, in the lifetime of most of us here, as you know, fewer than 10 percent of all our rural homes in this country had electric power. Whenever I read about the statistics of desolation, in the underdeveloped world, Latin America, and all the rest, we should realize that less than 30 years ago only 10 percent of our rural homes had electricity. That's how quickly the face of a nation can be changed by determination and by cooperative action by all the people.

Then, a farmer had no opportunity to participate in the mainstream of American life, to use labor-saving machinery, nor did his wife; nor did they have light, or a telephone, or a radio. Today, more than 95 percent of rural homes have electric power. The lives of these farmers and their families and their children have been enriched by living in the closest communion with the rest of our country.

The REA co-ops and power districts which have marketed this power have been a happy middle ground between private enterprise and public cooperation. They are making the most of Theodore Roosevelt's principle that marketing agencies which represent all the people should be given a preference in the development of waters which belong to all the people.

I don't think the role of the REA is finished yet. The role of the REA isn't finished yet. And those who say that its job is finished, and the job, really, in so many ways, of this country finished, are wrong. By the end of this century we're going to have 300 million people, and a 2 trillion dollar national income, and a great responsibility as the food basket of a world which will double its population in the next 40 years.

This is the prospect for the end of this century, and the key to this century is power--power on the farm as well as the factory, power in the country as well as the city. And the need for power on the farm and the countryside continues to grow. Electricity rates must remain low. More generating capacity must be developed. And soon the vast resources of nuclear energy will be tapped.

This is not a choice between spending and saving, for REA is a form of saving, as is this dam, hours and lives, saving farms and saving and returning to our Nation's Government every dollar loaned, with interest, in taxes on new appliances and new equipment, and new farm income. This program and so many like it have returned to the public treasuries many times the entire cost of the program.

The question which confronts us is related to the question which confronted Roosevelt and Rayburn and Norris in the thirties, and that is the whole question of our resource development in the western United States in the 1960's. Our electric power needs will double in this decade. Our economic, military, and international commitments will require a continuing source of new energy. Surely a continent so rich in minerals, so blessed with water, and a society so replete with engineers and scientists can make and must make the best possible use of the bounty which nature and God have given us, public and private, federal and local, cooperative and corporate. We cannot prevent other people in this country from developing their resources. We look forward to the day when energy will flow where it's needed. We cannot permit railroads to prevent coal slurry pipelines from conveying the resources of our mines. We cannot permit the mining industry to say there shall be no nuclear energy because it may affect them adversely. We cannot permit, as a country, public and private power interests to veto each other's projects, or one region to say another region shall not develop. If we do that, we shall stand still and forget the lesson that our history has told us. But if we can apply to the challenges of the sixties the same principles of efficiency, cooperation, and foresight, which made this great dam possible, the same principles which cause American technicians to be sought out the world over to assist in developing the Nile, the Volta, the Mekong and the Indus Rivers, then we can look to a happy future.

I am proud to come here today. This is a matter of the greatest importance to us as a country. This quick visit on conservation I hope will remind all of us in Washington that we have a good deal of unfinished business in this area. The Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Udall, will visit the Soviet Union in September. He may see a dam nearing completion which will be double the size of our largest, Grand Coulee. The dam at Bratsk, on the Angara River in central Siberia, already partially producing power, will shortly back up a manmade inland sea of 40 million acre-feet, with a capacity of 4.5 million kilowatts, and the Grand Coulee, our largest, is 2 million kilowatts.

I don't want to see the United States second in space or in the development of power resources. And I think it's most appropriate in this great decade that we light the entire country. I think our commitment is that expressed by a distinquished Senator from my own State of Massachusetts, whose words are hung behind the Speaker's chair in the House of Representatives. He said: "Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its power, build up all its great institutions, and see whether we, in our time and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered."

I'm proud of the engineers and of the citizens of this State who helped build this great dam.

Note: The President spoke from a platform erected on the banks of the Missouri River near the dam. His opening words referred to Stewart L. Udall, Secretary of the Interior; Archie Gubbrud, Governor of South Dakota; George McGovern, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from South Dakota and a former Special Assistant to the President; anti Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of the Army.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Dedication of the Oahe Dam, Pierre, South Dakota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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