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Infrastructure Lesson 1

Lesson 1: What Does the California Water Project Tell Us About Public Works Infrastructures?


This one-day lesson can be used to introduce infrastructure in a high school history, government or economics class. It begins with a brief examination of the 2012 “UCLA Water Main Break”. By focusing on a sudden and unexpected failure like this, students will begin to understand the many ways we are dependent upon our water infrastructure for basic human and social needs. After this brief introduction, students will learn a definition of infrastructure.

For the remainder of the lesson, they will return to the UCLA water main break after examining how the California Water Project brings water from Northern California down to the houses and businesses in Los Angeles using dams, aqueducts, and municipal water systems. As students study the various parts of this massive state-wide system, they will be learning several characteristics of infrastructure that will guide them throughout the unit.


Students should be able to do the following at the end of the lesson:

  1. State several ways a major water main break will impact daily life.
  2. Accurately define infrastructure in one sentence.
  3. Illustrate at least five common features of infrastructure using the three stages of the California Water Project.


  1. After seeing two photographs of the “UCLA Break” and several related facts, students will have a discussion where they brainstorm all the ways lives were affected by this  malfunction. 
  2. In part two of this lesson, students will learn a concise definition of infrastructure.  As they explore the various key parts of this definition, they will end up with a list of eight possible features of a large infrastructure system like that in California. 
  3. For the rest of the class, students will examine the three stages of the California Water Project with these eight features in mind.


  1. Full Lesson Plan - Includes Lesson Overview, Teacher Instructions, Student Handouts, and a PowerPoint overview.
  2. Teacher Instructions
  3. Student Handouts
  4. PowerPoint
The design, development, validation and publication of these infrastructure teaching modules was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Grant #1334292, and the Global Projects Center at Stanford University. All opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper reflect the views of the author/s, and not necessarily the views of these sponsors.