Irrigation systems in Rio Grande valley

The old pumphouse dominates the landscape with its towering smokestack.

Step back in time a hundred years or so and take a look around the Rio Grande valley. All you can see is dry, barren desert. Cactus and other desert plants thrive in the inhospitable landscape. Fast forward to the 1920’s and look around the valley. Now, the area is filled with bountiful farmlands growing a wide variety of crops. What happened? How did that change occur? Irrigation began.

What is Irrigation?

To irrigate fields means to move water to the fields. In the case of the Rio Grande valley, the water is lifted out of the Rio Grande river and sent to the fields through a series of canals.

What are Canals?

Canals are basically small man-made rivers. People dig a series of channels for the water to flow through. The canal system is designed to deliver water to all the farms in the area.

Enormous furnaces heated water and created steam to power the powerful pumps to lift water from the Rio Grande and deliver it to the fields.

How Does Water Get Into the Canals?

The canal system of the Rio Grande valley uses a pump to lift water from the river and pump it out to the fields.

You could say that the pump houses and canals have, quite literally, changed the face of the Rio Grande Valley. If they had never been built, the area would still be barren desert.

Today, exciting things are happening with the pump house and canals the valley, thanks to Los Caminos del Rio. One of the old steam-powered pump houses – now rendered obsolete by the introduction of a new electric pumping system – has been converted into a world-class museum documenting the historical method of delivering water to the farms.

Los Caminos del Rio is also planning to use the vast array of canals to develop a valley-wide trail network. It won’t be long before hikers and bikers in the Rio Grande valley will have miles upon miles of developed trails through peaceful, rural farmlands in the valley.

“The trail network will be a huge benefit to the community,” says Eric Ellman, Executive Director of Los Caminos del Rio. “This community is traditionally a very sedentary community, but we’re hoping to get people out walking and biking on the trails. This network could be very useful in reducing the rate of obesity and all the health risks that come with it.”



Biking the canal roads is a great way to get out of the city and into nature.
Los Caminos del Rio is trying to convert the canal roads into bike trails.
Riding alone or with a group, the canal roads are wonderful for getting out of the house.
The pump houses quite literally changed the face of the Rio Grande Valley.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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