Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of the Saline Water Conversion Act

August 11, 1965

Senator Anderson, Senator Jackson, Senator Kuchel, Congressman Aspinall, Congressman Saylor, Governors Hughes, Scranton, Terry, and Rockefeller, Members of the Cabinet, Members of Congress, my friends:

I am very delighted to see so many Members of the House and many of my friends in the Senate come here this morning.

There is always a certain amount of cynicism among members of the executive branch and, I guess, sometimes among even members of the press about the productiveness of the Congress. I will measure my words when I say that over the past several weeks Congress has sent to the executive department, to my desk for signature, what appears to me to be an unprecedented procession of legislative measures which can only be described as truly historic and which I think is a tribute to every Member of both the House and Senate, of both parties.

It is my own studied and considered judgment, however, that this bill that you are witnessing being signed this morning will be the most historic of all of them: not for what it provides but rather for what it promises, not for what it accomplishes but rather for what it symbolizes.

True, this is a research and development bill--and it is only that. This legislation will not, by itself, build a single desalting plant in this country. But this is a commitment--the step across the threshold toward the breakthrough that must and will come, in my judgment, during the last half of the 1960's.

I may or may not be the most optimistic person in America about the progress we can make on desalting the seas, but I am, and I intend to remain, the most determined man that we shall make the great breakthroughs before the calendar turns to 1970.

I believe today what I believed in 1957 about space: that the greatest mistake the political system of a nation can make is to underestimate the pace of this century's advance of human knowledge and of this century's changing capabilities.

We need this research. We need this study. We need the experimentation that this bill provides--but we need to do more than spend all our time just learning.

So what does that mean? It means the time has come to set our sights, to pick our targets, and to act. For if we succeed, our success could well change the condition of man all around the world.

We have lingered too long under the impression that desalting sea water is a far out and a far distant goal. Since the dawn of time, every drop of water that man has drunk or used has been desalted in Nature's own still.

Nature's system has been erratic--and we have spent and we are spending billions to overcome many costly and many cruel uncertainties.

What can we do? What must we do? Well, now, the thing we can do is to free mankind from Nature's tyranny by setting out to produce water when and where we need it at a price that we can afford.

And in doing that we are going to need all the skill and all the ingenuity of modern science and modern industry. But I think the time has never been so ripe to get going on this kind of a job. We have new resources of abundant energy that can provide the power that this will require. And what was impossible and inconceivable yesterday is very near to reality today. And I want this Nation to lead the effort to close this gap--not in the next 50 years but in the next 5 years.

I would, therefore, lay out before the talents of our industry and science and institutions of higher learning, and our leaders of this Nation, these challenges this morning and these goals:

1. That plans be developed for constructing by 1970 desalting plants that will bridge the gap between the 1 million gallon per day plants that we have and the 100 million gallon per day plant that we must have. That is first. 2. That we aim at having by 1968--or sooner--plants from 1 to 10 million gallon daily capacity to meet the needs of all of our smaller towns and cities. And I would add that, hopefully, such small, efficient plants may someday be economical for individual farms to use in desalting brackish water from their own wells.

3. That we realize that the seas are not our only recourse and that we aim to make it feasible to mine, desalt, and put to productive use the brackish groundwater which underlies more than 2 million square miles of the United States--all the way from the Appalachians to the Rockies.

4. That as rapidly as we develop economic desalting plants, we be prepared to share our technology with other countries where desalting offers the best answer to their local water problems.

Now desalting is not a dream. Three of our cities, ships at sea, the oil fields of other lands already depend upon desalting plants. We have only to learn to do these things at a price that we can afford--and I am convinced that we can learn them before this decade ends.

The program authorized by this bill will help us to learn--first for our thirsty cities and industries, and then someday for agriculture.

A millennium ago, in what is now the great State of Arizona, there were Indians who built extensive water works, as we ourselves build them now. They irrigated the lands that are now desert. But when the drought came and their works were of no value, the Indians disappeared, remembered in history only as "the people nobody knows."

Well, in our Nation, water has long been treated by many as the concern only of the farmer and the rancher. But we are beginning to learn better. In our complex and concentrated urban economy and society, water today, as we meet here, has never had more meaning. The drought being experienced now in our most populous region reminds us anew that we cannot and must not rely alone on building bigger reservoirs and longer pipelines, or grander schemes of waterworks to supply this essential of life.

I remember a few years ago when we had had a great drought in the Southwest for some 5 or 6 years, and the then great President, President Eisenhower, was very concerned about it. And he flew to the south plains of Texas, and Amarillo, and the Oklahoma area, and he traveled over it and showed his concern, and called together people as we are calling our people together here. There weren't many of our metropolitan leaders very interested in that situation. It was just the cowman that couldn't get water for his stock. But since then there is not a city in that State that hasn't awakened--and the sleeping giants are now on the move. So we can, and because we can, we really must develop the capacity to produce water and to produce it when and to produce it where we need it at a price we can afford.

I believe that we will succeed. I have a vision that such success could be one of history's most vital contributions to the cause of peace among nations. Our water policy will greatly influence our foreign policy.

Many share the credit for this landmark legislation that is before us--Senators Anderson, Jackson, and Kuchel, all of whom serve with distinction on the Interior Committee of the Senate, Congressman Aspinall, the distinguished chairman of the House committee and an authority in this field himself, Congressman Rogers, Congressman Saylor, Secretary Udall, Chairman Seaborg of the Atomic Energy Commission, and my own Science Adviser, the very able Dr. Hornig.

I am proud now to sign this bill into law to mark the beginning of what I hope will be a new era of national effort and national achievement. And I particularly welcome the distinguished chief executives of other States who are here to help us start on this new program this morning and, a little later in the morning, to help us explore ways and means for facing up to an emergency that we have now. And to the mayors and to the Governors and to the other officials who have come here to meet with us, I say thank you. You are mighty welcome.

Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington, Senator Thomas H. Kuchel of California, Representative Wayne N. Aspinall of Colorado, Representative John P. Saylor of Pennsylvania, Governor Richard J. Hughes of New Jersey, Governor William W. Scranton of Pennsylvania, Governor Charles L. Terry, Jr., of Delaware, and Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York.

During his remarks the President referred to Representative Walter Rogers of Texas, Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall, Glenn T. Seaborg, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Donald F. Hornig, Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.

As enacted, the Saline Water Conversion Act is Public Law 89-118 (79 Stat. 509).

A report by Secretary Udall and Jack Valenti, Special Assistant to the President, following a tour of the Demonstration Plant of the Office of Saline Water at Freeport, Tex., was made public by the White House on August 5, 1965. The text of the report is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 1, p. 48).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Saline Water Conversion Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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