Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of the Water Quality Act of 1965

October 02, 1965

Members of the Cabinet and Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

Happy birthday, Mr. Hayden. I sent you a little note last night and I had intended to come to see you today, but since you are here, I hope you will stay over and just visit with me a little bit after the ceremony.

This moment marks a very proud beginning for the United States of America. Today, we proclaim our refusal to be strangled by the wastes of civilization. Today, we begin to be masters of our environment.

But we must act, and act swiftly. The hour is late, the damage is large.

The clear, fresh waters that were our national heritage have become dumping grounds for garbage and filth. They poison our fish; they breed disease; they despoil our landscapes.

No one has a right to use America's rivers and America's waterways that belong to all the people as a sewer. The banks of a river may belong to one man or even one industry or one State, but the waters which flow between those banks should belong to all the people.

There is no excuse for a river flowing red with blood from slaughterhouses. There is no excuse for papermills pouring tons of sulphuric acid into the lakes and the streams of the people of this country. There is no excuse--and we should call a spade a spade-for chemical companies and oil refineries using our major rivers as pipelines for toxic wastes. There is no excuse for communities to use other people's rivers as a dump for their raw sewage.

This sort of carelessness and selfishness simply ought to be stopped; and more, it just must be reversed. And we are going to reverse it.

We are going to begin right here in Washington with the Potomac River. Two hundred years ago George Washington used to stand on his lawn down here at Mount Vernon and look on a river that was clean and sweet and pure. In our own century President Theodore Roosevelt used to go swimming in the Potomac. But today the Potomac is a river of decaying sewage and rotten algae. Today all the swimmers are gone; they have been driven from its banks.

Well, with the signing of the Water Quality Act of 1965 this morning, I pledge you that we are going to reopen the Potomac for swimming by 1975. And within the next 25 years, we are going to repeat this effort in lakes and streams and other rivers across this country.

I believe that with your help and your continued cooperation, water pollution is doomed in this century.

This bill that you have passed, that will become law as a result of a responsive Congress, will not completely assure us of absolute success. Additional, bolder legislation will be needed in the years ahead. But we have begun. And we have begun in the best American tradition--with a program of joint Federal, State, and local action.

The ultimate victory of reclaiming this portion of our national heritage really rests in the hands of all the people of America, not just the Government here in Washington. But much of the money, some of the imagination, much of the effort must be generated at the local level. And then, and really only then, will this blueprint for victory become victory in fact.

Thank you for coming this morning.

Note: The President spoke at 10:04 a.m. in the East Room at the White House before a group composed of United States Senators, Representatives, and members of the Cabinet. At the beginning of his remarks he referred to Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona, President of the Senate pro tempore, who was celebrating his 88th birthday.

As enacted, the Water Quality Act of 1965 is Public Law 89-234 (79 Stat. 903).

On November 10, 1965, the President signed Proclamation 3688 "Water Conservation Month" (1 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 489; 30 F.R. 14349; 3 CFR, 1965 Supp., p. 75).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Water Quality Act of 1965 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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