Washington– One of the few things astronaut John Glenn remembered seeing
clearly from his spacecraft during his historic 1962 orbit around the earth
was “a lot of desert with a big irrigated area” north of El Paso, Texas.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s early 20th-century Rio Grande irrigation
project transformed thousands of acres of arid land along the Rio Grande
River in southern New Mexico and Texas. This complex, interrelated system
of dams, reservoirs, canals, ditches and drains was a triumph for
Reclamation’s engineers. The creation and construction of this project form
the subject of a new classroom lesson plan, “Making the Desert Bloom”: The
Rio Grande Project, which is available at
The Rio Grande Project lesson plan was created cooperatively by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program and the Bureau of Reclamation under an Interagency Agreement. It was completed in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.
“For more than 20 years, the Teaching with Historic Places program has helped teach a variety of classroom subjects utilizing properties of the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “I am pleased that the program will now help educators highlight important projects and sites of the Bureau of Reclamation in their lessons as well.”
“This project will allow a new generation of students to really see what a huge endeavor it was to bring irrigation water to these parts of southern New Mexico and west Texas through the Rio Grande Project,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor. “As water supplies become more limited and conservation efforts become vitally important, it is our hope that this project will bring a new appreciation for the importance of water in the West.”
In this lesson, students will examine President Theodore Roosevelt’s vision for irrigating the arid lands of the western United States and the early history of the Bureau of Reclamation. Congress passed the Reclamation Act of 1902 to turn barren areas of the West into productive family farms and extend benefits of the earlier Homestead Act. Today the Rio Grande Project provides water for some 178,000 acres, as well as electric power for area communities and industries. Students also will consider short and long term problems the Project encountered and become familiar with the component parts of this extensive system.
Rio Grande Project is the 141st Teaching with Historic Places online lesson plan. This National Park Service series uses places listed in the National Register of Historic Places to enrich traditional classroom instruction and other educational programming in history, social studies, civics, and other subjects. The Teaching with Historic Places website indexes these lessons by states, historic themes, time periods, learning skills, and history and social studies standards to help teachers incorporate them most effectively into the curriculum.
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