Stewart Udall was a three-term congressman before serving as Secretary of the Interior from 1961-1969 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Stewart Udall: Facing the opposition

(The story below is built around a recorded interview)

Stewart Udall wasn’t new to Washington D.C. He was a three-term Congressman before serving as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson. So the challenge was obvious. Getting Congressional approval for construction of Central Arizona Project had to overcome the opposition of California and that of the newly developing environmental movement.

“We had to get some of the leaders, top leaders of California viewing Arizona and its desire for a water project as something that was rational and historically right and so on,” Udall said. “I had to work on it. I worked on it every day one way or another; it was always on my mind.”

As Secretary of the Interior, he knew he was going to break down the unity of California, making friends with the Northern California people. And he encouraged everyone working on getting the project authorized to collaborate with environmentalists. Getting authorization for CAP took a lot of work and collaboration.

“I had to make compromises to make it easy for Arizona to get its project,” he said. “I was almost kind of on a tightrope between being a national Secretary of Interior and being perceived as somebody whose main mission in life was to get an Arizona water project.”

But Udall knew it was best for Arizona. He remember conversations about securing Arizona’s Colorado River supply from his childhood and was aware that a stable and secure water supply was key for Arizona’s future.

“I spent my time with a team of horses as a teenager plowing fields, irrigating fields, that was part of your education, so you lived close to the land. Water was important, gardens were important, animals were important,” said Udall. “That was the way I lived. I think that served me well when I become a Congressman, Secretary of Interior, because I knew how important resources were to people."

Read Stewart Udall's Oral History Transcript
Listen to Stewart Udall's Interview