Kennedy’s last California speech

It’s all Kennedy, all the time at my house right now. Some of the documentaries about the 50th anniversary of his assassination have been outstanding.

The coverage made me think about Kennedy’s last visit to California. Seven weeks before he was killed, the president dropped in on Shasta County to dedicate Whiskeytown Dam, the last piece of a project to divert the Trinity River from its own native watershed into the Sacramento Valley. Today, diverted Trinity River water flows down the Sacramento River into the Delta and is pumped south to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Check out JFK’s speech, which begins just before the 4-minute mark:

It’s safe to say that our thinking has changed somewhat since those days of building big water infrastructure projects. I know some environmental advocates who would dispute that the Trinity diversion proves “man can improve on nature,” as Kennedy asserted. And we now know that water allowed to flow down the Trinity toward the ocean is not necessarily “wasted” as the president said; rather, at certain times of year downstream flows can be crucial for salmon attempting to head up the Klamath River, of which the Trinity is a tributary.

Don’t get me wrong, the Trinity diversion remains important for Valley farmers who seem perpetually short on water. For a manmade lake Whiskeytown is an absolute gem for folks in the Redding area. And as one who used to live there and whose reporting assignment included Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, I can tell you Kennedy’s brief visit was a huge deal that people are still talking about.

It’s eerie watching that speech, knowing that the man had less than two months to live.

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