This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. Copies of the speech exist as a press release and a reading copy in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. The texts of the release and the reading copy are the same. Page images of the reading copy can be found here.
Last year the beaches of Milwaukee - a source of recreation and pleasure for thousands of people - were closed to the public. The reason: the water was polluted - it was unhealthy and unsafe.
This incident dramatized for Wisconsin citizens what has become a national concern - the coming crisis in water. In every section of the country the story of the Milwaukee beaches is being repeated. In Colorado the great South Platte River which irrigates thousands of acres of farmland is filled with the sewage and refuse of hundreds of cities and industrial plants. In my own home state of Massachusetts, until recently, commercial clammers on the Merrimac River had to rinse their clams with salt water before selling them. And all of you who have visited our Nation’s capital have seen - and smelled - the pollution of the historic and once beautiful Potomac - a river which has become so filthy that people can no longer water-ski on its surface because the spray is injurious to their health. And what has happened in Milwaukee, in Colorado, in Massachusetts and in Washington - can happen anywhere in the country - from the lakes of Florida and California, to your own Lake Winnebago.
But water pollution is not merely a destroyer of natural beauty and recreation. It destroys - as effectively as drought - water which is needed for home consumption, for industrial production and for agriculture. It wastes water supplies which the nation cannot afford to waste.
Today we consume seven times the amount of water which we used in 1900 - 270 billion gallons each and every day in the year. But this is only a start. In twenty years we will almost double our need for water. We will need the fantastic total of 600 billion gallons a day. Yet many parts of our country - large stretches of the West - already need more water than the land brings forth. How then can we hope to meet this vastly greater need of the future?
The answer - of course - is the re-use of the water which we already have. But water pollution is the obstacle to this easy and effective solution. Almost all of the country’s rivers are affected by water pollution - and polluted water cannot be reused. Thus we must halt the destructive filthying of our water if we are to provide the resources on which a sound economy and a healthy population depends.
And the problem of water pollution is not a local problem - it is not the problem of a single state. The waste which pollutes the Great Lakes comes from all the states which border those waters, and our great national rivers flow past hundreds of cities and towns carrying with them the refuse and the filth of all they touch. The need for healthy water goes beyond political boundaries - it is a national need - and our nation’s welfare and our nation’s health are gravely affected.
In recognition of this the Federal Government - in 1956 - made fifty million dollars a year available to cities and towns to help them construct water pollution control projects - to help build the modern sewage and waste treatment facilities which are necessary if we are to halt the growing destruction of our water supply. Even though this modest federal aid was limited to thirty per cent of the total cost of any one project, within two years construction of sewage treatment works jumped 75% - from 222 million dollars a year to 389 million dollars a year.
But despite this electric response - the results were insufficient. Wisconsin alone fell 8 million dollars short of the construction it needed during the past three years if it was to keep pace with its own water pollution problems. And the nation as a whole spent far less than the 575 million dollars - which we will have to spend every year for the next eight years if we are to effectively halt the destruction of our water.
This year Congress is acting to meet this urgent national need, with a bill to increase the amount of federal aid to 90 million dollars a year for the next ten years. The Federal Government will pay only 30% of the cost of any project which it aids, but - as our past experience has so clearly shown - even this limited increase in Federal aid will serve as an enormous stimulant to increased construction.
This new legislation also contains some badly needed reforms in our aid program. It allows cities and towns to cooperate in the construction of joint waste treatment plants, and raises to 500,000 dollars the amount which can be granted for any one project. This increase is necessary to cover the cost of large cooperative ventures - absolutely essential if metropolitan areas are to work together to meet this problem. The past limitation has required cities to undertake ineffective and expensive individual programs - programs which cost the Federal Government and the local taxpayers far more than a single joint project would have cost.
Yet, despite the overwhelming need and the smallness of the federal aid required, the Administration has vigorously opposed this progressive and essential legislation. This bill will in all probability be vetoed. The budgeteers in the White House would like to cut out all federal aid for water pollution - even the small and highly effective program of the past few years. Thus, in the name of economy, the threat of a Presidential veto hangs over all Congressional efforts to deal with the national problem of water pollution. But this is false economy - false economy at its very worst. For small federal effort to help states and cities eliminate the filth which is destroying their precious water resources will return hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy in terms of increased industrial and agricultural production - as well as immeasurable dividends in better recreational opportunities and improved human welfare.