International Falcon Reservoir

By: Dick D. Heller, Jr.

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: February 1, 1995

International Falcon Reservoir is located on the Rio Grande east of Zapata (its center point is 26°34' N, 99°10' W). The huge lake is bounded by Starr and Zapata counties, Texas, and the county and city of Nuevo Ciudad Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The dam and reservoir provide for water conservation, flood control, hydroelectric energy, and recreation. The project is owned, authorized, and operated by the United States and Mexico through the International Boundary and Water Commission. The project is named for the relocated town of Falcon, which in turn was renamed in 1915 after the wife of founder José Eugenio Ramírez, María Rita de la Garza Falcón.

The idea of a dam six miles east of the present site began about 1935, and the lake was approved by treaty at its present location in the late 1940s. Work began in 1951, and deliberate impoundment started on August 25, 1953. The reservoir was dedicated by presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adolfo Ruiz Cortines on October 19, 1953. The five-mile-long rolled earthfill and concrete embankment was completed on April 8, 1954. The first power was generated commercially on October 11, 1954. The dam is 150 feet above the riverbed, with a crest elevation of 323 feet above sea level. Almost two miles of the dam is in the United States, and nearly three miles is in Mexico. The cost of the lake to the United States was $35 million. Flood-control benefits to the United States had totaled $130 million by January 1, 1986.

All lands on the United States side, except for Falcon State Park, are privately owned above 307 feet. Boating and fishing are common on the lake. Americans are allowed on both sides without immigration or customs inspection if they do not land in Mexico or take aboard anything from Mexico. Fishing is prohibited below the dam because of sudden water surges based on irrigation needs and controlled by computer from Brownsville. The area of the lake varies from 87,000 acres at elevation 301.2 feet to 115,400 acres at the maximum elevation of 314.2 feet. The reservoir has a summer storage capacity of 2,371,220 acre-feet.

Each country has three 14,750-horsepower turbines running three 10,500-kilowatt generators at each plant. Four units are possible if needed. Under terms of the treaty the United States receives 58.6 percent of the conservation storage and Mexico 41.4 percent; financing of the project was based on the same percentages. The drainage area above the dam is 164,482 square miles; 87,760 is in the United States and 76,722 in Mexico. The United States side provides nine public access areas, including the dam itself, along which runs a two-lane highway connecting Farm Road 2098 and Mexican Highway 2.

Patsy Jeanne Byfield, Falcon Dam and the Lost Towns of Zapata (Austin: Texas Memorial Museum, 1971). C. L. Dowell, Dams and Reservoirs in Texas: History and Descriptive Information (Texas Water Commission Bulletin 6408 [Austin, 1964]). Virgil N. Lott and Mercurio Martinez, The Kingdom of Zapata (San Antonio: Naylor, 1953). Texas Board of Water Engineers, Bulletin 5807A, September 1958. Valley By-Liners, Roots by the River: A Story of Texas Tropical Borderland (Mission, Texas: Border Kingdom Press, 1978). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Dick D. Heller, Jr., “International Falcon Reservoir,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 03, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995