Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of the Water Resources Planning Act.

July 22, 1965

Distinguished Members of Congress and particularly the sponsors of this progressive legislation, Secretary Udall, my guests:

This is one occasion that I wish our outdoor signing could be rained inside.

If we could have had the kind of rain that we so desperately need throughout the East, I would be glad to sign this valuable bill outside--provided somebody would lend me one of those pens that writes under water.

I think, as all of you know, the deadline for signing this measure is still almost a week away. But I am signing it this morning because we just cannot overemphasize and we cannot overdramatize and we certainly cannot overreact to this Nation's growing problem of water supply and proper water management.

Over the years the Federal Government has made an investment of more than $50 billion in water resources projects. Our annual investment of some $1 3/4 billion is equal to the yearly investment outlay of the entire motor vehicle industry. So we spend roughly as much each year on water development as we do on our continental air and missile defense.

But the present drought in the Northeast is bringing home to us that we have done and are doing far less than enough to get the job done for this growing Nation.

Our capacity is overtaxed already--even without a drought. Yet only 15 years from now, in 1980, our water needs will more than double. And in 30 years, by the end of the century, our water needs will triple.

I was asked the other day what took most of my time as President, and I could answer without hesitation in one word: planning-planning--planning. We just don't realize keenly enough how pressing, and how urgent, and how critical it is for us to be planning today for America's future needs tomorrow--needs 10, 20, and 30 years hence, when this Nation will have three people for every two that we have today.

So, in this Water Resources Planning Act that we have before us this morning, Congress has given us a valuable tool for planning that we are going to have to do at every level--Federal, State, and local. Senator Anderson, who is beside me here, Senator Jackson, the very able chairman of the House Committee, Congressman Aspinall--all who supported S. 21--have made a very invaluable and very farsighted contribution to America's future. And I want to congratulate each Member of the Congress, who is invited here this morning, for their dedicated and patriotic and rather effective work in this field.

I think the day is past when the Nation can afford to listen to, or laugh smugly with, those who have gone about slandering our water resource projects throughout the years as pork barrel and boondoggle. Because we see very clearly in the East today the real boondogglers are those who oppose and who obstruct sensible, prudent, and long-range planning to meet our water needs.

It would be inappropriate on this occasion to talk about the future without speaking directly of the present problem that is plaguing the great Northeast from Maryland to Maine.

The 4-year drought in this rich and populous region is the most severe in the history of the Nation. It is unequaled in the records dating back to the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

Last night I received a comprehensive report on the situation that I had requested from the Water Resources Council, and I have asked that this report be released shortly. I hope I have a chance to review it with the Members of Congress from that area and then I will be able to make it public.

Water supply is, first of all, a great responsibility of our local governments--and, of course, we do not intend for the Federal Government to preempt this responsibility. But I have and I am directing every Federal agency with authority in this field to do all that should and can be done to contribute the maximum assistance in the present situation. I also am directing that Federal plans for future emergency action be made on the assumption that the drought will continue into the fifth year--and I hope that local planning will follow this same assumption.

The Council reports that there may be above-average rainfall the next 30 days in the Northeast, and more during the late summer and fall. Well, I hope so. But down where I come from, we don't run for umbrellas in July just because rain is predicted. In my country, sometimes you can't get a glass of water even out of the rivers--much less out of the restaurants.

And even with heavy rains, the Council informs me that it would take a year of normal rainfall to make much improvement in this great region's water shortage.

So we must--and we will--do all that we can under existing programs to assist in this growing emergency. For the longer-term, I believe it is imperative that we proceed toward the goal of "drought-proofing" our metropolitan areas, and their agricultural regions, through advances in the technology of desalting the waters of the sea. This has become a must, and we are giving it high priority in the executive department and in the Congress.

I met with a group of Ambassadors yesterday, who came in here for lunch with some of my associates, and I find that the entire world is vitally interested in the work that we are doing in the field of desalting. And while sometimes we are inclined to emphasize that more has been accomplished than really has, the interest is there, and the desire is there, and if we have the necessary determination, under sound leadership, we will have breakthroughs and we will get results. And Senator Anderson, Senator Jackson, Congressman Aspinall, and others who are pioneers in this field, all of the members of the Interior Committees of both Houses, have shown great imagination in the years past.

I have directed my Science Adviser, Dr. Donald Hornig, to coordinate all of the Federal efforts on desalting. We can do better. We must make certain that we proceed on the most effective and the most productive course. I am going to ask Dr. Hornig to talk to some of the leading Members of Congress in the next few days ahead to just see that we get the benefit of all the suggestions they have. I am asking the Secretary of the Interior today to see what can be done with interested cities to determine the feasibility of large desalting plants as sources of supplementary water supply for the future.

We must all remember the old wisdom that "willful waste leads to woeful want." Water has always been very precious to Americans, but it has never been more precious than now.

So this Nation can be grateful to this Congress for the responsible foresight that has been shown in this important response to our future needs. And the development of large parts of our Nation is limited only by water,.and we must get ahead with the job, and this bill that I will shortly sign will be an important step in that direction.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:53 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall. During his remarks he referred to Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Representative Wayne N. Aspinall of Colorado, and Dr. Donald F. Hornig, Special Assistant to the President.

For the reports of the Water Resources Council, see note to Item 358.

As enacted, the Water Resources Planning Act (S. 21) is Public Law 89-80 (79 Stat. 244).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Water Resources Planning Act. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/241417

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