November 22, 2013

As we reflect on the legacy of President John F. Kennedy it is natural to recall his appreciation for California and the times he visited the Golden State.

In a recent Fresno Bee article, journalist John Ellis described the visits Kennedy made to California both as a Massachusetts Senator and as the President of the United States. On numerous occasions while visiting our state Kennedy mentioned water and the need to provide resources to spur economic growth and prosperity for the nation. In the fall of 1959 while campaigning for the upcoming presidential election, Kennedy warned a Fresno audience of plans by the Soviet Union to outpace the United States in hydroelectric and agricultural production, evidence of their rising global influence. A few months later during a whistle-stop tour on his way to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Kennedy lamented the losses raisin growers were experiencing due to inclement weather and emphasized his concern over the decline in agricultural income.

And on his final visit to California in August 1963, now President Kennedy participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for San Luis dam and reservoir in western Merced County. It was there that he made his most earnest statements on the need for new water supplies to irrigate the farmland in the Valley. During his speech, the original text of which can be seen, including his handwritten notes, in the archives of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum HERE, Kennedy talked about disagreement among the nation’s 180 million people.

But shortly thereafter the President commended Californians for cooperating with one another when he said, “…and yet in this case, one part of your state has been willing to help another part.” He continued, “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.”

Later Kennedy remarked, “This is a unique ceremony, because this partnership is at the highest level. The amounts of contribution of both (the State and federal government) is unique and special, and the benefits that will come from it are unique and special, and I think that those who took part in this and made it possible should feel the strongest sense of pride, because all those years when people in this state said it was impossible, and those who had water wanted to hug it and not make it available to all those who lived in dry areas.”

Today, the very land President Kennedy talked about turning green with bountiful food production rarely receives its full measure of water. Water supply cuts due to federal environmental regulations have achieved little environmental benefit and have left hard-working people without jobs, food lines to feed the hungry, and rural communities withering in economic ruin. San Luis Reservoir has been a jewel in the crown of California’s water supply system. Proper fishery management and decision-making will allow the project Kennedy helped build continue to meet California’s water supply, environmental and recreation needs far into the future. That is the right legacy for the leadership and vision that came to the Valley in 1963.

Click HERE for a large version of the JFK poster (inset) and more quotes from his historic visit to Los Banos.


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