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Unit 3: Rivers and Water Diversion

Ruth Hoff, Wittenberg University. Authored and compiled new case study material based on Unit 3 of Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources module by Adriana Perez, Jill S. Schneiderman, Meg Stewart, and Joshua Villalobos

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.


In this unit, students use topography and streamflow data to define the system of the watershed, and how water is unequally distributed regionally based on climate and topography. They examine the effects of stream diversion on that system and consider how it relates to their own local community.

Science and Engineering Practices

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships. MS-P4.1:

Engaging in Argument from Evidence: Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence. HS-P7.5:

Engaging in Argument from Evidence: Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues HS-P7.1:

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables. HS-P6.1:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. MS-C4.1:

Patterns: Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data. MS-C1.4:

Cause and effect: Systems can be designed to cause a desired effect. HS-C2.3:

Cause and effect: Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal effects. HS-C2.4:

Cause and effect: Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. HS-C2.2:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land. MS-ESS2.C1:

Human Impacts on Earth Systems: Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. MS-ESS3.C1:

Natural Resources: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. HS-ESS3.A2:

Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems: Humanity faces major global challenges today, such as the need for supplies of clean water and food or for energy sources that minimize pollution, which can be addressed through engineering. These global challenges also may have manifestations in local communities HS-ETS1.A2:

Performance Expectations

Earth and Human Activity: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems. MS-ESS3-4:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: May 23, 2016


In this unit students will explore surface water and its relationship to the water cycle via watersheds and drainage divides. These topics will inform their analysis of the social and environmental impacts of the planned increase of hydroelectric dams in the Amazon. Case studies include the Ene River and the Marañón River in Peru.

Learning Goals

Unit 3 activities support the module goals of being able to articulate the principles of environmental justice as they relate to the potential impacts of planned hydroelectric dams on the Marañón River in Peru. The specific learning objectives for this unit align with the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages as follows:

  • Communication:
    • Interpersonal Communication: Spanish language learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken conversations to share information, reactions, and opinions about the possible social and environmental impacts of hydroelectric projects.
    • Interpretive Communication: Spanish language learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed regarding proposed hydroelectric dams on the Ene and Marañón Rivers.
  • Connections:

    • Making Connections: Spanish language learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using Spanish to develop critical thinking. As part of this learners will be able to:

      • define watershed terms in Spanish;

      • employ definitions of topography, surface flow, watersheds, and drainage divides to identify potential environmental consequences of hydroelectric dams;

      • interpret digital imagery from Google Earth to investigate relationships between surface water diversion and environmental justice.

    • Acquiring Information and Diverse Perspectives: Spanish language learners access and evaluate information from Asháninka spokespersons interviewed in a Peruvian regional news program.

Context for Use

Unit 3 is designed to function as one day of instruction in an intermediate-level Spanish class. The materials are especially appropriate for a Spanish course that focuses on environmental studies, human rights, contemporary issues, conversation, and/or global change. Students do not need any prior knowledge of scientific concepts. The plan is for a 50-minute class but it can be modified to fit various schedules. Although the instructions below include both Spanish and English, the lesson is designed to be conducted entirely in Spanish. Students will need to be familiar with concepts of environmental justice and the water cycle prior to this lesson.

Description and Teaching Materials


This homework assignment should be completed before class La cuenca hidrográfica -- actividad (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 85kB May18 16). The homework assignment introduces students to watershed terms, how they work, and possible consequences of hydroelectric projects through questions that direct students in online investigations and critical thinking, a visual image for which they apply the terms, and a link to a short video. The homework assignment is referred to throughout the lesson and informs several of its activities.

Answer key to "La cuenca hidrográfica -- actividad" (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 92kB May18 16)


Introduction to the Marañón River and its hydroelectric projects (10 min)

The interactive PowerPoint materials ask students to compare images of the Marañón River with images of the Grand Canyon to provide a sense of the grandeur of the physical landscape of these two regions. These images are used to then ask questions that contrast environmental justice arguments with those used to prevent dams from being built in the Grand Canyon. To provide a point of comparison, ask students to guess which slides show the Marañón River and which ones show the Grand Canyon (slides 1–6). Continue with slide 7, which includes a question for think-pair-share discussion of the implicit arguments used to resist the construction of dams in the Grand Canyon. Show students slides 8 and 9 which introduce an overview of planned construction of dams in the Amazon. El río Marañón (PowerPoint 12MB May18 16)

What is a watershed? ¿Qué es una cuenca hidrográfica? (10 min)

Ask students to take out their homework assignment. To provide oral practice and to clarify watershed terms, ask pairs of students to take turns describing the vocabulary from part 1 to their partner, who must guess which part of the illustration is being described. Return to the large group and ask individual students to describe these terms to the class using PowerPoint slide 10 for reference.

A gallery walk to discuss river flow, watersheds, and dams (15 min)

Divide students into small groups of three or four. Student groups circulate around the room in a gallery walk based on questions 2, 3, and 4 of the homework. (¿Qué factores pueden influir el caudal de un río? ¿Cuál es un buen sitio para construir una represa? ¿Cuáles son algunas consecuencias de construir una represa en un río como el de la imagen?) They choose one person as a reporter for the group and then discuss and compare their answers as part of this gallery walk. After the groups have visited all three stations, the instructor facilitates a full class discussion of the outcomes for each station calling on reporters to start the conversation.

Why do some dams cause more flooding than others? ¿Por qué algunas represas pueden provocar mayores inundaciones en comparación con otras? (10 min)

Open the Google Earth image files which show estimates of the potential reservoirs that would result from 22 proposed Marañón River dams. Embalses del río Marañón (Zip Archive 816kB Nov15 14) Click on various dams, zoom in and out to compare. For a stark contrast, click on the Chadin II and the Manseriche dams. Ask students why certain dams would cause more flooding than others. Ask them what other consequences might result.

El pueblo asháninka and Ruth Buendía (5 min)

Review questions 5 and 6 from the homework assignment. As a think-pair-share activity or as a homework assignment, ask students to identify the arguments used to resist the dams on the Ene River and compare them with the Grand Canyon ad from the beginning of the class. Ask if they see arguments based on environmental justice.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Gallery Walk — One of the central activities in this lesson is a gallery walk in which students work in groups to answer three questions stationed throughout the room. The instructor should be prepared to organize these stations so that students can freely circulate in their groups.

Since many of the words in this unit may be new for Spanish language students, when working in groups, encourage student partners to start with what they know, identify cognates, use context clues from drawings, employ a process of elimination, and make connections with the class discussion. Students should be encouraged to talk entirely in Spanish in their groups using words they know, gestures, and the drawing to get their ideas across.

As a possible extension, students could investigate a river of their own choosing to apply the concepts learned in this unit.


Assessment (homework) — Share with students the Marañón River basins either by sending or making available the Google Earth kmz files Las cuencas del río Marañón (KMZ File 2MB Nov15 14) or with PowerPoint slides 11 and 12. Then share with them images of the Amazon river basin on PowerPoint slides 13 and 14. These images show how the Marañón River and its tributaries flow directly into the Amazon River. Slide 15 asks students to interpret the Google Earth images and respond to the following in writing:

  • Identify at least three possible environmental and/or social consequences for the Amazon River and its basin if the development of major hydroelectric projects on the Marañón River proceeds.
  • Do any of these possible consequences connect to the idea of environmental justice? Explain.
  • What additional research would you recommend to be better able to predict these consequences? Unit 3 Assessment Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 28kB May18 16)

¿Qué piensas? ¿Cuáles serán las consecuencias para el río Amazonas y la cuenca Amazónica si se desarrollan los proyectos hidroeléctricos planificados para el río Marañón?

  • Identifica por lo menos 3 posibles consecuencias sociales y/o ambientales.
  • ¿Hay alguna conexión entre estas consecuencias y la justicia ambiental? Explica.
  • ¿Qué investigaciones recomendarías para poder mejor predecir las consecuencias de estos proyectos hidroeléctricos?

In addition to the above assessment, the pre-class activity can be collected and/or the instructor can note through class participation if students can articulate watershed terms and the relationship between topography, surface flow, watersheds, and drainage divides.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »