165. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology (Hornig) to President Johnson1


  • Eisenhower Proposal for Mid-East Water Project

A proposal for a bold, large-scale Mid-East water project based on (1) very large nuclear desalting plants and (2) a Comsat type of corporation to finance and manage them has been proposed in a memorandum from Admiral Strauss to President Eisenhower.2

It was reported by Sulzberger (N.Y. Times, July 16, 1967)3 that the Strauss memorandum had been commended to you by President Eisenhower and handed to me for detailed study.

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I have never received any document from either Admiral Strauss or President Eisenhower. However, on July 11, 1967, Dr. Alvin Weinberg, Director of the AEC’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, visited me on behalf of Admiral Strauss to tell me of the memo to Eisenhower and to outline their general line of thinking. Tomorrow (Thursday, July 27) Admiral Strauss will call on me and at that time I hope to get a copy of the memo.4

The ideas in the memo are based on:

  • —The work at ORNL on the economies of scale in both water and power production which can be achieved with very large nuclear desalting plants, perhaps 10 times larger than those on the drawing boards now;
  • —The concept of the agricultural factory, combining desalted water and the most intensive scientific farming. By optimum use of water, much less would be needed and its value enhanced. For example, instead of the U.S. average of 4000 gallons of water per day to feed one person, one could get by on 200 gallons/day;
  • —The idea of using the cheap electric power to mechanize the agricultural factory and establish industry.

It is impossible at this time to evaluate the project or to answer even such simple questions as how to use the fantastic amounts of electric power (2,400,000 kilowatts) which would be produced. My intention is simply to listen to Admiral Strauss and to get something in writing if I can.

Donald Hornig
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, NSC Special Committee, #2, July 1, 1967–July 31, 1967 [1 of 2]. No classification marking. Copies were sent to Rostow and Bundy.
  2. Document 166.
  3. In the article, “Foreign Affairs: Water and Work—II,” Sulzberger commented that former President Eisenhower “talks of up to one billion gallons of sweet water being thus produced each day,” and Eisenhower was quoted as saying that “The project should be really enormous because the bigger the plant, the more economic the operation.” (Notes for Use in Event of Consideration of Possible Feasibility of Large Water Projects for Middle East, attached to a memorandum from Saunders to Bundy, July 24; Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, NSC Special Committee Memos—McGeorge Bundy)
  4. Hornig met with Strauss on July 27 and obtained a copy of Document 166. He reported that Strauss had said the Eisenhower proposal had “got into the press by accident and not by design. It was their hope that you would take it up as your plan.” Strauss also made explicit the link between this proposal and Rothschild’s proposal: “Both he and Lord Rothschild are convinced that private capital can be obtained for the project through a Comsat type of corporation.” See footnote 2, Document 164. (Memorandum from Hornig to the President, August 1; Johnson Library, Papers of Donald F. Hornig)