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Falcon Dam Proves Itself (1954)
International Boundary and Water Commission
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  • Highlights
     President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mexican President Aldolfo Ruiz Cortines at Falcon Dam dedication ceremony
  • Transcript
    The valley of the Rio Grande is the natural boundary between Mexico and the United States.  This area has long suffered from lack of water.  The hot climate and infrequent rains often have combined to dry up the river bed and cause extended periods of drought.
    For the people of the valley of the Rio Grande, each year also brought dust storms.
    One by one wells which formerly supplied water ceased to flow.  In recent years the crops in the lower river valley became poorer.  The herds of cattle suffered increasingly from the lack of water.  The situation was becoming dangerous.
    Many local efforts were made to harness the river for drought relief, but such a serious problem which affected so many people in both nations required a concerted effort.
    Not only did the river fail to serve the area in times of drought, but occasionally violent rainstorms caused it to overflow its banks and produce disastrous floods.
    To remedy this situation, Mexico and the United States joined together for the construction of Falcon Dam to benefit the lower river valley where the need was the greatest.  The dam would enable large scale irrigation and control of floods and it would provide hydroelectric power for the development of surrounding areas.
    President Eisenhower of the United States and President Cortines of Mexico met for the inauguration ceremony for Falcon Dam in October of 1953.  In spite of its immense cost of construction, both nations were confident that it would prove its worth.
    Falcon Dam began a new era of national cooperation in the valley of the Rio Grande.
    There were immediate gains for the farmers and the fields along the valley of the lower river.  New irrigation ditches meant healty and abundant crops in the promise of the new era of plenty.
    But in June of 1954 a Hurricane cascaded rain over the river valley 350 miles above the new Falcon Dam.  In the aftermath came the worst flood in the history of the valley.
    Within two days cities like Del Rio, Piedras Negras, and Eagle pass were completely inundated as the flood rushed southward.
    With no major dams yet constructed on the upper Rio Grande, the flood spread unchecked reaching a crest of more than 60 feet.  On the third day of the flood, Laredo was completely isolated and the famous international bridge was washed away.
    The death toll rose to 62 known dead with hundreds missing.  The thousands of homeless took shelter wherever they could.  
    South Texas in the United States was declared a major disaster area.  Water trucks were rushed into the stricken towns, for the available water supply had been polluted.
    Among those to suffer the most were the Mexicans whose homes had been destroyed.  These flood victims found temporary shelter in neighboring hills. 
    As the torrents fed downstream toward Falcon Dam, it left great destruction in its wake. Entire cities were blanketed in a coating of sticky mud.  Five bridges along the 350 mile path of the flood were wrecked.  Estimates of the total damage ran into the millions.
    Voluntary unofficial relief efforts were augmented with aid of the Red Cross which  provided parcels of food, clothing and medical supplies.  These were flown across the river from the airport at Eagle Pass in Texas. 
    For a time, this airlift formed the only bridge in this area between Mexico and the United States.
    Like the good neighbors they are, Mexicans and Americans gave each other all they aid they could in the face of this disaster.  When an epidemic of typhoid fever threatened, more than 5,000 people were immediately inoculated.
    On the fifth day of the flood, the waters wrecking everything in their way poured into the approaches to Falcon Dam.  The critical moment had come.  As night fell, 350,000 people in the valley below the Dam braced themselves for flight should the dam fail.
    The next morning the answer came.  During the night the entire body of flood water had been absorbed by the immense reservoir of the Falcon Dam.  The worst flood in the history of the Rio Grande had been completely halted.
    The entire valley below the dam was saved.  Thousands of homes, herds of livestock, and the $60,000,000 cotton crop, which was just blossoming in the lower valley, were spared.
    Falcon Dam cemented the bonds of friendship and cooperation between the two nations.  Its proven value has given impetus for other dams along the river; dams to prevent disastrous floods from spreading, and to provide needed irrigation and electric power to people of both nations.
    Falcon Dam, which was less than 1 year old, had more than proved itself.