Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower visit in Palm Springs

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, left, with President John F. Kennedy in Palm Springs, Calif. 

Remembering Kennedy's words on National Ag Day

Once a year we celebrate National Ag Day to remember the great contributions American farmers make in producing an abundant source of healthy and safe food for the those living in the United States and abroad.

The achievements of American farmers are legion. They include the development and use of technologies that conserve water, save time and help produce more food per square foot, and even cubic foot, than ever before.

All this however cannot happen without water. One American visionary said it well when he offered the keynote at the groundbreaking for San Luis Dam on Aug. 18, 1962.

During his address, President John F. Kennedy defined why public projects such as California’s State Water Project were vital to national progress.

According to President Kennedy, the San Luis Dam project was important, if for nothing else “…to permit us to look at this valley and others like it across the country where we can see the greenest and most richest earth producing the greatest and richest crops in the country and then a mile away see the same earth and see it brown and dusty and useless and all because there’s water in one place and there isn’t in another.”

Not only was President Kennedy’s vision poignant then, but recalling his speech is worthy to illustrate how we have perhaps strayed far away from the kind of cooperation and utilitarian philosophy that made progress possible in America.

“Nothing could be more disastrous for this country than for the citizens of one part of the state to feel that everything they have is theirs and it should not be shared with other citizens of this state, or people from the East to say: ‘there is no benefits to us in spending our money to make this valley green’,” Kennedy went on to state.

This statement could apply equally to those in northern California who think the water captured there is theirs as it is for southern California to think it owns the title to water that falls on northern California and the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.


President Kennedy wasn’t finished: “We must step up our program to convert cheap fresh water from salt water.

"There is no scientific breakthrough, including the trip to the moon, that will mean more to the country which first is able to bring fresh water front salt water at a competitive rate, and all those people who live in deserts around the oceans of the world will look to the nation which first made this significant breakthrough, and I would like to have it the United States of America.”

Included in his prepared text, but not delivered, was this nugget:

“Our resources are not so ample that they can fulfill all possible uses at all possible times. Neither are they so ample as to afford the delay and waste which result from continued debate and disagreement. The keynote must be one of cooperation and accommodation, and above all, of vision.”

Also President Kennedy's prepared text, but not delivered:

“For many years some believed that the water problems of this state were too controversial and too complicated to solve. They believed there was no escaping the effects of drought and flood, the shortages which crippled industrial development and the staggering waste of soil and water which future Californians would require.”

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This brings me to my point.

California’s water woes have allegedly become too “controversial” and “complicated” to solve. They make for great headline and blog fodder, but cannot be completed because entire bureaucracies and networks exist to financially gain from the inaction of debate.

Until we embrace Kennedy’s call to action and cease our incessant “debate and disagreement,” the needs, hopes and aspirations of those of us living in California and the United States will never be met.

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