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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hoover Dam, a concrete arch-gravity dam in Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Lake Mead in the background is impounded by the dam.

A dam is a barrier that impounds water or underground streams. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees (also known as dikes) are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. Hydropower and pumped-storage hydroelectricity are often used in conjunction with dams to provide clean electricity for millions of consumers.



The sizable Roman Harbaqa Dam in Syria is 21 m high and 365 m long.
The Roman dam at Cornalvo in Spain has been in use for almost two millennia.
Grand Anicut dam on river Kaveri (19th century on 1st-2nd century foundation)

The word dam can be traced back to Middle English,[1] and before that, from Middle Dutch, as seen in the names of many old cities.[2]

Most early dam building took place in Mesopotamia and the Middle East. Dams were used to control the water level, for Mesopotamia's weather affected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and could be quite unpredictable.

The earliest known dam is situated in Jawa, Jordan, 100 km northeast of the capital Amman. This gravity dam featured a 9 m high and 1 m wide stone wall, supported by a 50 m wide earth rampart. The structure is dated to 3000 BC.[3][4] The Ancient Egyptian Sadd Al-Kafara at Wadi Al-Garawi, located about 25 kilometers south of Cairo, was 102 m long at its base and 87 m wide. The structure was built around 2800[5] or 2600 B.C.[6] as a diversion dam for flood control, but was destroyed by heavy rain during construction or shortly afterwards.[5][6]

Roman dam construction was characterised by "the Romans' ability to plan and organise engineering construction on a grand scale".[7] Roman planers introduced the then novel concept of large reservoir dams which could secure a permanent water supply for urban settlements also over the dry season.[8] Their pioneering use of water-proof hydraulic mortar and particularly Roman concrete allowed for much larger dam structures than previously built,[7] such as the Lake Homs Dam, possibly the largest water barrier to date,[9] and the Harbaqa Dam, both in Roman Syria. The highest Roman dam was the Subiaco Dam near Rome; its record height of 50 m remained unsurpassed until its accidental destruction in 1305.[10]

Roman engineers made routinely use of ancient standard designs like embankment dams and masonry gravity dams.[11] Apart from that, they displayed a high degree of inventiveness, introducing most of the other basic dam designs which had been unknown until then. These include arch-gravity dams,[12] arch dams,[13] buttress dams[14] and multiple arch buttress dams,[15] all of which were known and employed by the 2nd century AD (see List of Roman dams).

Eflatun Pınar is a Hittite dam and spring temple near Konya, Turkey. It's thought to the time of the Hittite empire between the 15th and 13 century BC.

The Kallanai is a massive dam of unhewn stone, over 300 meters long, 4.5 meters high and 20 meters (60 ft) wide, across the main stream of the Kaveri river in India. The basic structure dates to the 2nd century AD.[16] The purpose of the dam was to divert the waters of the Kaveri across the fertile Delta region for irrigation via canals.

Du Jiang Yan is the oldest surviving irrigation system in China that included a dam that directed waterflow. It was finished in 251 B.C. A large earthen dam, made by the Prime Minister of Chu (state), Sunshu Ao, flooded a valley in modern-day northern Anhui province that created an enormous irrigation reservoir (62 miles in circumference), a reservoir that is still present today.[17]

In Iran, bridge dams were used to provide hydropower through water wheels, which often powered water-raising mechanisms. The first was built in Dezful, which could raise 50 cubits of water for the water supply to all houses in the town. Also diversion dams were known.[18] Milling dams were introduced which the Muslim engineers called the Pul-i-Bulaiti. The first was built at Shustar on the River Karun, Iran, and many of these were later built in other parts of the Islamic world.[18] Water was conducted from the back of the dam through a large pipe to drive a water wheel and watermill.[19] In the 10th century, Al-Muqaddasi described several dams in Persia. He reported that one in Ahwaz was more than 3,000 feet long,[20] and that and it had many water-wheels raising the water into aqueducts through which it flowed into reservoirs of the city.[21] Another one, the Band-i-Amir dam, provided irrigation for 300 villages.[20]

In the Netherlands, a low-lying country, dams were often applied to block rivers in order to regulate the water level and to prevent the sea from entering the marsh lands. Such dams often marked the beginning of a town or city because it was easy to cross the river at such a place, and often gave rise to the respective place's names in Dutch. For instance the Dutch capital Amsterdam (old name Amstelredam) started with a dam through the river Amstel in the late 12th century, and Rotterdam started with a dam through the river Rotte, a minor tributary of the Nieuwe Maas. The central square of Amsterdam, covering the original place of the 800 year old dam, still carries the name Dam Square or simply the Dam.

Types of dams

Dams can be formed by human agency, natural causes, or even by the intervention of wildlife such as beavers. Man-made dams are typically classified according to their size (height), intended purpose or structure.

By size

International standards define large dams as higher than 15-20 meters and major dams as over 150-250 meters in height.[22]

The tallest dam in the world is the 300-meter-high Nurek Dam in Tajikistan.[23]

Intended purposes include providing water for irrigation to a town or city water supply, improving navigation, creating a reservoir of water to supply industrial uses, generating hydroelectric power, creating recreation areas or habitat for fish and wildlife, retaining wet season flow to minimise downstream flood risk and containing effluent from industrial sites such as mines or factories. Some dams can also serve as pedestrian or vehicular bridges across the river as well. When used in conjunction with intermittent power sources such as wind or solar, the reservoir can serve as pumped water storage to facilitate base load dampening in the power grid. Few dams serve all of these purposes but some multi-purpose dams serve more than one.

A saddle dam is an auxiliary dam constructed to confine the reservoir created by a primary dam either to permit a higher water elevation and storage or to limit the extent of a reservoir for increased efficiency. An auxiliary dam is constructed in a low spot or saddle through which the reservoir would otherwise escape. On occasion, a reservoir is contained by a similar structure called a dike to prevent inundation of nearby land. Dikes are commonly used for reclamation of arable land from a shallow lake. This is similar to a levee, which is a wall or embankment built along a river or stream to protect adjacent land from flooding.

An overflow dam is designed to be over topped. A weir is a type of small overflow dam that are often used within a river channel to create an impoundment lake for water abstraction purposes and which can also be used for flow measurement.

A check dam is a small dam designed to reduce flow velocity and control soil erosion. Conversely, a wing dam is a structure that only partly restricts a waterway, creating a faster channel that resists the accumulation of sediment.

A dry dam is a dam designed to control flooding. It normally holds back no water and allows the channel to flow freely, except during periods of intense flow that would otherwise cause flooding downstream.

A diversionary dam is a structure designed to divert all or a portion of the flow of a river from its natural course.

By structure

Based on structure and material used, dams are classified as timber dams, arch-gravity dams, embankment dams or masonry dams, with several subtypes.

Masonry dams

Arch dams
Daniel-Johnson Dam at Manic 5 hydro-electric centrale, Quebec, Canada is a multiple arch dam.

In the arch dam, stability is obtained by a combination of arch and gravity action. If the upstream face is vertical the entire weight of the dam must be carried to the foundation by gravity, while the distribution of the normal hydrostatic pressure between vertical cantilever and arch action will depend upon the stiffness of the dam in a vertical and horizontal direction. When the upstream face is sloped the distribution is more complicated. The normal component of the weight of the arch ring may be taken by the arch action, while the normal hydrostatic pressure will be distributed as described above. For this type of dam, firm reliable supports at the abutments (either buttress or canyon side wall) are more important. The most desirable place for an arch dam is a narrow canyon with steep side walls composed of sound rock.[24] The safety of an arch dam is dependent on the strength of the side wall abutments, hence not only should the arch be well seated on the side walls but also the character of the rock should be carefully inspected.

Two types of single-arch dams are in use, namely the constant-angle and the constant-radius dam. The constant-radius type employs the same face radius at all elevations of the dam, which means that as the channel grows narrower towards the bottom of the dam the central angle subtended by the face of the dam becomes smaller. Jones Falls Dam, in Canada, is a constant radius dam. In a constant-angle dam, also known as a variable radius dam, this subtended angle is kept a constant and the variation in distance between the abutments at various levels are taken care of by varying the radii. Constant-radius dams are much less common than constant-angle dams. Parker Dam is a constant-angle arch dam.

A similar type is the double-curvature or thin-shell dam. Wildhorse Dam near Mountain City, Nevada in the United States is an example of the type. This method of construction minimizes the amount of concrete necessary for construction but transmits large loads to the foundation and abutments. The appearance is similar to a single-arch dam but with a distinct vertical curvature to it as well lending it the vague appearance of a concave lens as viewed from downstream.

The multiple-arch dam consists of a number of single-arch dams with concrete buttresses as the supporting abutments, as for example the Daniel-Johnson Dam, Québec, Canada. The multiple-arch dam does not require as many buttresses as the hollow gravity type, but requires good rock foundation because the buttress loads are heavy.

Gravity dams
The Gilboa Dam in the Catskill Mountains of New York State is an example of a "solid" gravity dam.

In a gravity dam, stability is secured by making it of such a size and shape that it will resist overturning, sliding and crushing at the toe. The dam will not overturn provided that the moment around the turning point, caused by the water pressure is smaller than the moment caused by the weight of the dam. This is the case if the resultant force of water pressure and weight falls within the base of the dam. However, in order to prevent tensile stress at the upstream face and excessive compressive stress at the downstream face, the dam cross section is usually designed so that the resultant falls within the middle at all elevations of the cross section (the core). For this type of dam, impervious foundations with high bearing strength are essential.

When situated on a suitable site, gravity dams can prove to be a better alternative to other types of dams. When built on a carefully studied foundation, the gravity dam probably represents the best developed example of dam building. Since the fear of flood is a strong motivator in many regions, gravity dams are being built in some instances where an arch dam would have been more economical.

Gravity dams are classified as "solid" or "hollow". This is called "Zoning". The core of the dam is zoned depending on the availability of locally available materials, foundation conditions and the material attributes. The solid form is the more widely used of the two, though the hollow dam is frequently more economical to construct. Gravity dams can also be classified as "overflow" (spillway) and "non-overflow." Grand Coulee Dam is a solid gravity dam and Itaipu Dam is a hollow gravity dam. A gravity dam can be combined with an arch dam, an arch-gravity dam, for areas with massive amounts of water flow but less material available for a purely gravity dam.

Embankment dams

The San Luis Dam near Los Banos, California is an embankment dam.

Embankment dams are made from compacted earth, and have two main types, rock-fill and earth-fill dams. Embankment dams rely on their weight to hold back the force of water, like the gravity dams made from concrete.Recently there have been some interesting developments in the production of a composite core fill for smaller embankments by a British company, (The Instant Barrage Company). This composite core fill has certain advantages in that it will not dry out in long periods of exposure to dry conditions.

Rock-fill dams

Rock-fill dams are embankments of compacted free-draining granular earth with an impervious zone. The earth utilized often contains a large percentage of large particles hence the term rock-fill. The impervious zone may be on the upstream face and made of masonry, concrete, plastic membrane, steel sheet piles, timber or other material. The impervious zone may also be within the embankment in which case it is referred to as a core. In the instances where clay is utilized as the impervious material the dam is referred to as a composite dam. To prevent internal erosion of clay into the rock fill due to seepage forces, the core is separated using a filter. Filters are specifically graded soil designed to prevent the migration of fine grain soil particles. When suitable material is at hand, transportation is minimized leading to cost savings during construction. Rock-fill dams are resistant to damage from earthquakes. However, inadequate quality control during construction can lead to poor compaction and sand in the embankment which can lead to liquefaction of the rock-fill during an earthquake. Liquefaction potential can be reduced by keeping susceptible material from being saturated, and by providing adequate compaction during construction. An example of a rock-fill dam is New Melones Dam in California.

Earth-fill dams

Earth-fill dams, also called earthen, rolled-earth or simply earth dams, are constructed as a simple embankment of well compacted earth. A homogeneous rolled-earth dam is entirely constructed of one type of material but may contain a drain layer to collect seep water. A zoned-earth dam has distinct parts or zones of dissimilar material, typically a locally plentiful shell with a watertight clay core. Modern zoned-earth embankments employ filter and drain zones to collect and remove seep water and preserve the integrity of the downstream shell zone. An outdated method of zoned earth dam construction utilized a hydraulic fill to produce a watertight core. Rolled-earth dams may also employ a watertight facing or core in the manner of a rock-fill dam. An interesting type of temporary earth dam occasionally used in high latitudes is the frozen-core dam, in which a coolant is circulated through pipes inside the dam to maintain a watertight region of permafrost within it.

Tarbela Dam also Know Tora Bela Dam (Pashto) is a large dam on the Indus River in Pakistan. It is located about 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Islamabad, and a height of 485 ft (148 m) above the river bed and a reservoir size of 95 sq mi (250 km2) makes it the largest earth filled dam in the world. The principal element of the project is an embankment 9,000 feet (2743 meters) long with a maximum height of 465 feet (143 meters). The total volume of earth and rock used for the project is approximately 200 million cubic yards (152.8 million cu. Meters) which makes it the largest man made structure in the world , except for the Great Chinese Wall which consumed somewhat more material.

Because earthen dams can be constructed from materials found on-site or nearby, they can be very cost-effective in regions where the cost of producing or bringing in concrete would be prohibitive.

Asphalt-concrete core

A third type of embankment dam is built with asphalt concrete core. The majority of such dams are built with rock and/or gravel as the main fill material. Almost 100 dams of this design have now been built worldwide since the first such dam was completed in 1962. All asphalt-concrete core dams built so far have an excellent performance record. The type of asphalt used is a viscoelastic-plastic material that can adjust to the movements and deformations imposed on the embankment as a whole, and to settlements in the foundation. The flexible properties of the asphalt make such dams especially suited in earthquake regions.


A cofferdam during the construction of locks at the Montgomery Point Lock and Dam.

A cofferdam is a (usually temporary) barrier constructed to exclude water from an area that is normally submerged. Made commonly of wood, concrete or steel sheet piling, cofferdams are used to allow construction on the foundation of permanent dams, bridges, and similar structures. When the project is completed, the cofferdam may be demolished or removed. See also causeway and retaining wall. Common uses for cofferdams include construction and repair of off shore oil platforms. In such cases the cofferdam is fabricated from sheet steel and welded into place under water. Air is pumped into the space, displacing the water allowing a dry work environment below the surface. Upon completion the cofferdam is usually deconstructed unless the area requires continuous maintenance.

Timber dams

A timber crib dam in Michigan, photographed in 1978.

Timber dams were widely used in the early part of the industrial revolution and in frontier areas due to ease and speed of construction. Rarely built in modern times by humans because of relatively short lifespan and limited height to which they can be built, timber dams must be kept constantly wet in order to maintain their water retention properties and limit deterioration by rot, similar to a barrel. The locations where timber dams are most economical to build are those where timber is plentiful, cement is costly or difficult to transport, and either a low head diversion dam is required or longevity is not an issue. Timber dams were once numerous, especially in the North American west, but most have failed, been hidden under earth embankments or been replaced with entirely new structures. Two common variations of timber dams were the crib and the plank.

Timber crib dams were erected of heavy timbers or dressed logs in the manner of a log house and the interior filled with earth or rubble. The heavy crib structure supported the dam's face and the weight of the water. Splash dams were timber crib dams used to help float logs downstream in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Timber plank dams were more elegant structures that employed a variety of construction methods utilizing heavy timbers to support a water retaining arrangement of planks.

Very few timber dams are still in use. Timber, in the form of sticks, branches and withes, is the basic material used by beavers, often with the addition of mud or stones.

Steel dams

Red Ridge steel dam, b. 1905, Michigan.

A steel dam is a type of dam briefly experimented with in around the turn of the 19th-20th Century which uses steel plating (at an angle) and load bearing beams as the structure. Intended as permanent structures, steel dams were an (arguably failed) experiment to determine if a construction technique could be devised that was cheaper than masonry, concrete or earthworks, but sturdier than timber crib dams.

Beaver dams

Beavers create dams primarily out of mud and sticks to flood a particular habitable area. By flooding a parcel of land, beavers can navigate below or near the surface and remain relatively well hidden or protected from predators. The flooded region also allows beavers access to food, especially during the winter.

Construction elements

Power generation plant

As of 2005, hydroelectric power, mostly from dams, supplies some 19% of the world's electricity, and over 63% of renewable energy.[25] Much of this is generated by large dams, although China uses small scale hydro generation on a wide scale and is responsible for about 50% of world use of this type of power.[25]

Most hydroelectric power comes from the potential energy of dammed water driving a water turbine and generator; to boost the power generation capabilities of a dam, the water may be run through a large pipe called a penstock before the turbine. A variant on this simple model uses pumped storage hydroelectricity to produce electricity to match periods of high and low demand, by moving water between reservoirs at different elevations. At times of low electrical demand, excess generation capacity is used to pump water into the higher reservoir. When there is higher demand, water is released back into the lower reservoir through a turbine.

Hydroelectric dam in cross section.


Spillway on Llyn Brianne dam, Wales soon after first fill.

A spillway is a section of a dam designed to pass water from the upstream side of a dam to the downstream side. Many spillways have floodgates designed to control the flow through the spillway. Types of spillway include: A service spillway or primary spillway passes normal flow. An auxiliary spillway releases flow in excess of the capacity of the service spillway. An emergency spillway is designed for extreme conditions, such as a serious malfunction of the service spillway. A fuse plug spillway is a low embankment designed to be over topped and washed away in the event of a large flood. Fusegate elements are independent free-standing block set side by side on the spillway which work without any remote control. They allow to increase the normal pool of the dam without compromising the security of the dam because they are designed to be gradually evacuated for exceptional events. They work as fixed weir most of the time allowing overspilling for the common floods.

The spillway can be gradually eroded by water flow, including cavitation or turbulence of the water flowing over the spillway, leading to its failure. It was the inadequate design of the spillway which led to the 1889 over-topping of the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, resulting in the infamous Johnstown Flood (the "great flood of 1889").

Erosion rates are often monitored, and the risk is ordinarily minimized, by shaping the downstream face of the spillway into a curve that minimizes turbulent flow, such as an ogee curve.

Dam creation

Common purposes

Function Example
Power generation Hydroelectric power is a major source of electricity in the world. Many countries have rivers with adequate water flow, that can be dammed for power generation purposes. For example, the Itaipu on the Paraná River in South America generates 14 GW and supplied 93% of the energy consumed by Paraguay and 20% of that consumed by Brazil as of 2005.
Water supply Many urban areas of the world are supplied with water abstracted from rivers pent up behind low dams or weirs. Examples include London - with water from the River Thames and Chester with water taken from the River Dee. Other major sources include deep upland reservoirs contained by high dams across deep valleys such as the Claerwen series of dams and reservoirs.
Stabilize water flow / irrigation Dams are often used to control and stabilize water flow, often for agricultural purposes and irrigation.[26] Others such as the Berg Strait dam can help to stabilize or restore the water levels of inland lakes and seas, in this case the Aral Sea.[27]
Flood prevention Dams such as the Blackwater dam of Webster, New Hampshire and the Delta Works are created with flood control in mind.[28]
Land reclamation Dams (often called dykes or levees in this context) are used to prevent ingress of water to an area that would otherwise be submerged, allowing its reclamation for human use.
Water diversion A typically small dam used to divert water for irrigation, power generation, or other uses, with usually no other function. Occasionally, they are used to divert water to another drainage or reservoir to increase flow there and improve water use in that particular area. See: diversion dam.
Recreation and aquatic beauty Dams built for any of the above purposes may find themselves displaced by time of their original uses. Nevertheless the local community may have come to enjoy the reservoir for recreational and aesthetic reasons. Often the reservoir will be placid and surrounded by greenery, and convey to visitors a natural sense of rest and relaxation.


The discharge of Takato Dam

One of the best places for building a dam is a narrow part of a deep river valley; the valley sides can then act as natural walls. The primary function of the dam's structure is to fill the gap in the natural reservoir line left by the stream channel. The sites are usually those where the gap becomes a minimum for the required storage capacity. The most economical arrangement is often a composite structure such as a masonry dam flanked by earth embankments. The current use of the land to be flooded should be dispensable.

Significant other engineering and engineering geology considerations when building a dam include:

  • permeability of the surrounding rock or soil
  • earthquake faults
  • landslides and slope stability
  • water table
  • peak flood flows
  • reservoir silting
  • environmental impacts on river fisheries, forests and wildlife (see also fish ladder)
  • impacts on human habitations
  • compensation for land being flooded as well as population resettlement
  • removal of toxic materials and buildings from the proposed reservoir area

Impact assessment

Impact is assessed in several ways: the benefits to human society arising from the dam (agriculture, water, damage prevention and power), harm or benefits to nature and wildlife (especially fish and rare species), impact on the geology of an area - whether the change to water flow and levels will increase or decrease stability, and the disruption to human lives (relocation, loss of archeological or cultural matters underwater).

Environmental impact

Wood and garbage accumulated because of a dam

Dams affect many ecological aspects of a river. Rivers depend on the constant disturbance of a certain tolerance. Dams slow Water exiting a turbine usually contains very little suspended sediment, which can lead to scouring of river beds and loss of riverbanks; for example, the daily cyclic flow variation caused by the Glen Canyon Dam was a contributor to sand bar erosion.

Older dams often lack a fish ladder, which keeps many fish from moving up stream to their natural breeding grounds, causing failure of breeding cycles or blocking of migration paths.[29] Even the presence of a fish ladder does not always prevent a reduction in fish reaching the spawning grounds upstream. In some areas, young fish ("smolt") are transported downstream by barge during parts of the year. Turbine and power-plant designs that have a lower impact upon aquatic life are an active area of research.

A large dam can cause the loss of entire ecospheres, including endangered and undiscovered species in the area, and the replacement of the original environment by a new inland lake.

Depending upon the circumstances, a dam can either reduce or increase the net production of greenhouse gases. An increase can occur if the reservoir created by the dam itself acts as a source of substantial amounts of potent greenhouse gases (methane and carbon dioxide) due to plant material in flooded areas decaying in an anaerobic environment. A study for the National Institute for Research in the Amazon found that Hydroelectric dams release a large pulse of carbon dioxide from above-water decay of trees left standing in the reservoirs, especially during the first decade after closing.[30] This elevates the global warming impact of the dams to levels much higher than would occur by generating the same power from fossil fuels.[30] According to the World Commission on Dams report (Dams And Development), when the reservoir is relatively large and no prior clearing of forest in the flooded area was undertaken, greenhouse gas emissions from the reservoir could be higher than those of a conventional oil-fired thermal generation plant.[31] For instance, In 1990, the impoundment behind the Balbina Dam in Brazil(closed in 1987) had over 20 times the impact on global warming than would generating the same power from fossil fuels, due to the large area flooded per unit of electricity generated.[30] A decrease can occur if the dam is used in place of traditional power generation, since electricity produced from hydroelectric generation does not give rise to any flue gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion (including sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, dust, and mercury from coal). The Tucurui dam in Brazil (closed in 1984) had only 0.4 times the impact on global warming than would generating the same power from fossil fuels.[30]

Large lakes formed behind dams have been indicated as contributing to earthquakes, due to changes in loading and/or the height of the water table.

Human social impact

The impact on human society is also significant. For example, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China is more than five times the size of the Hoover Dam (U.S.), and will create a reservoir 600 km long to be used for hydro-power generation. Its construction required the loss of over a million people's homes and their mass relocation, the loss of many valuable archaeological and cultural sites, as well as significant ecological change.[32] It is estimated that to date, 40-80 million people worldwide have been physically displaced from their homes as a result of dam construction.[33]


Construction of a hydroelectric plant requires a long lead-time for site studies, hydrological studies, and environmental impact assessment, and are large scale projects by comparison to traditional power generation based upon fossil fuels. The number of sites that can be economically developed for hydroelectric production is limited; new sites tend to be far from population centers and usually require extensive power transmission lines. Hydroelectric generation can be vulnerable to major changes in the climate, including variation of rainfall, ground and surface water levels, and glacial melt, causing additional expenditure for the extra capacity to ensure sufficient power is available in low water years.

Once completed, if it is well designed and maintained, a hydroelectric power source is usually comparatively cheap and reliable. It has no fuel and low escape risk, and as an alternative energy source it is cheaper than both nuclear and wind power.[citation needed] It is more easily regulated to store water as needed and generate high power levels on demand compared to wind power, although dams have life expectancies while renewable energies do not.

Dam failure

The reservoir emptying through the failed Teton Dam.
International special sign for works and installations containing dangerous forces

Dam failures are generally catastrophic if the structure is breached or significantly damaged. Routine deformation monitoring of seepage from drains in and around larger dams is necessary to anticipate any problems and permit remedial action to be taken before structural failure occurs. Most dams incorporate mechanisms to permit the reservoir to be lowered or even drained in the event of such problems. Another solution can be rock grouting - pressure pumping portland cement slurry into weak fractured rock.

During an armed conflict, a dam is to be considered as an "installation containing dangerous forces" due to the massive impact of a possible destruction on the civilian population and the environment. As such, it is protected by the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and shall not be made the object of attack if that may cause severe losses among the civilian population. To facilitate the identification, a protective sign consisting of three bright orange circles placed on the same axis is defined by the rules of IHL.

The main causes of dam failure include spillway design error (South Fork Dam), geological instability caused by changes to water levels during filling or poor surveying (Vajont Dam, Malpasset), poor maintenance, especially of outlet pipes (Lawn Lake Dam, Val di Stava Dam collapse), extreme rainfall (Shakidor Dam), and human, computer or design error (Buffalo Creek Flood, Dale Dike Reservoir, Taum Sauk pumped storage plant).

A notable case of deliberate dam failure (prior to the above ruling) was the Royal Air Force 'Dambusters' raid on Germany in World War II (codenamed "Operation Chastise"), in which three German dams were selected to be breached in order to have an impact on German infrastructure and manufacturing and power capabilities deriving from the Ruhr and Eder rivers. This raid later became the basis for several films.

Since 2007, the Dutch IJkdijk foundation is developing, with an open innovation model an early warning system for levee/dike failures. As a part of the development effort, full scale dikes are destroyed in the IJkdijk fieldlab. The destruction process is monitored by sensor networks from an international group of companies and scientific institutions.

See also


  1. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
  2. ^ Source: Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde (Magazine for Dutch Language and Literature), 1947. The first known appearance of the word dam stems from 1165. However, there is one village, Obdam, that is already mentioned in 1120. The word seems to be related to the Greek word taphos, meaning grave or grave hill. So the word should be understood as dike from dug out earth. The names of more than 40 places (with minor changes) from the Middle Dutch era (1150–1500 CE) such as Amsterdam (founded as 'Amstelredam' in the late 12th century) and Rotterdam, also bear testimony to the use of the word in Middle Dutch at that time.
  3. ^ Günther Garbrecht: "Wasserspeicher (Talsperren) in der Antike", Antike Welt, 2nd special edition: Antiker Wasserbau (1986), pp.51-64 (52)
  4. ^ S.W. Helms: "Jawa Excavations 1975. Third Preliminary Report", Levant 1977
  5. ^ a b Günther Garbrecht: "Wasserspeicher (Talsperren) in der Antike", Antike Welt, 2nd special edition: Antiker Wasserbau (1986), pp.51-64 (52f.)
  6. ^ a b Mohamed Bazza (28-30). "overview of the hystory of water resources and irrigation management in the near east region" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  7. ^ a b Smith 1971, p. 49
  8. ^ Smith 1971, p. 49; Hodge 1992, pp. 79f.
  9. ^ Smith 1971, p. 42
  10. ^ Hodge 1992, p. 87
  11. ^ Hodge 2000, pp. 331f.
  12. ^ Hodge 2000, p. 332; James & Chanson 2002
  13. ^ Smith 1971, pp. 33–35; Schnitter 1978, pp. 31f.; Schnitter 1987a, p. 12; Schnitter 1987c, p. 80; Hodge 2000, p. 332, fn. 2
  14. ^ Schnitter 1987b, pp. 59–62
  15. ^ Schnitter 1978, p. 29; Schnitter 1987b, pp. 60, table 1, 62; James & Chanson 2002; Arenillas & Castillo 2003
  16. ^ Wiebe, Bijker (2007). "Dikes and Dams, Thick with Politics" ( – Scholar search). Isis 98: 109–123. doi:10.1086/512835. Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  17. ^ Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 3. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
  18. ^ a b Donald Routledge Hill (1996), "Engineering", p. 759, in Rashed, Roshdi; Morelon, Régis (1996), Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Routledge, pp. 751–795, ISBN 0415124107 
  19. ^ Adam Lucas (2006), Wind, Water, Work: Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology, p. 62. BRILL, ISBN 9004146490.
  20. ^ a b Donald Routledge Hill (1996), A history of engineering in classical and medieval times, Routledge, pp. 56–8, ISBN 0415152917 
  21. ^ Donald Routledge Hill (1996), A history of engineering in classical and medieval times, Routledge, p. 31, ISBN 0415152917 
  22. ^ "Methodology and Technical Notes". Watersheds of the World. Retrieved 2007-08-01. "A large dam is defined by the industry as one higher than 15 meters high and a major dam as higher than 150.5 meters." 
  23. ^ Guinness Book of Records 1997 Pages 108-109 ISBN 0-85112-693-6
  24. ^ "Arch Dam Forces". Retrieved 2007-01-07. 
  25. ^ a b Renewables Global Status Report 2006 Update, REN21, published 2006, accessed 2007-05-16
  26. ^ "The Impact of Agricultural Development on Aquatic Systems and its Effect on the Epidemiology of Schistosomes in Rhodesia" (PDF). IUCN. "Recently, agricultural development has concentrated on soil and water conservation and resulted in the construction of a multitude of dams of various capacities which tend to stabilize water flow in rivers and provide a significant amount of permanent and stable bodies of water." 
  27. ^ "Kazakhstan". Land and Water Development Division. 1998. Retrieved 2007-08-01. "construction of a dam (Berg Strait) to stabilize and increase the level of the northern part of the Aral Sea." 
  28. ^ "Blackwater Dam". US Army Corps of Engineers. "The principal objective of the dam and reservoir is to protect downstream communities" 
  29. ^ Dam Fact Sheet
  30. ^ a b c d Fearnside, P.M. 1995. hydroelectric dams in the Brazilian Amazon as sources of 'greenhouse' gases. Environmental Conservation 22(1): 7-19.]
  31. ^ Hydroelectric power's dirty secret revealed - earth - 24 February 2005 - New Scientist
  32. ^ "Three Gorges dam wall completed". china-embassy. 20 May 2006. Retrieved 2006-05-21. 
  33. ^ World Commission on Dams Report


  • Arenillas, Miguel; Castillo, Juan C. (2003), "Dams from the Roman Era in Spain. Analysis of Design Forms (with Appendix)", 1st International Congress on Construction History [20th–24th January] (Madrid), 
  • Hodge, A. Trevor (1992), Roman Aqueducts & Water Supply, London: Duckworth, ISBN 0-7156-2194-7 
  • Hodge, A. Trevor (2000), "Reservoirs and Dams", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History, 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 331–339, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 
  • James, Patrick; Chanson, Hubert (2002), "Historical Development of Arch Dams. From Roman Arch Dams to Modern Concrete Designs", Australian Civil Engineering Transactions CE43: 39–56, 
  • Schnitter, Niklaus (1978), "Römische Talsperren", Antike Welt 8 (2): 25–32 
  • Schnitter, Niklaus (1987a), "Verzeichnis geschichtlicher Talsperren bis Ende des 17. Jahrhunderts", in Garbrecht, Günther, Historische Talsperren, 1, Stuttgart: Verlag Konrad Wittwer, pp. 9–20, ISBN 3-87919-145-X 
  • Schnitter, Niklaus (1987b), "Die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Pfeilerstaumauer", in Garbrecht, Günther, Historische Talsperren, 1, Stuttgart: Verlag Konrad Wittwer, pp. 57–74, ISBN 3-87919-145-X 
  • Schnitter, Niklaus (1987c), "Die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Bogenstaumauer", in Garbrecht, Günther, Historische Talsperren, 1, Stuttgart: Verlag Konrad Wittwer, pp. 75–96, ISBN 3-87919-145-X 
  • Smith, Norman (1970), "The Roman Dams of Subiaco", Technology and Culture 11 (1): 58–68 
  • Smith, Norman (1971), A History of Dams, London: Peter Davies, pp. 25–49, ISBN 0432150900 

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Simple English

A dam is a large wall or barrier that obstructs or stop the flow of water, forming a reservoir or a lake. Most dams have a section called a spillway or weir over which, or through which, water flows, either sometimes or always. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water. The tallest dam in the world is the 300 meter high Nurek Dam in Tajikistan.


Some of the first dams were built in Mesopotamia up to 7,000 years ago. Modern dams are built with arched walls of steel rod-reinforced concrete. The arched wall is a very strong shape which helps the wall to withstand the huge weight of the water.

Reasons for building dams

There are a number of reasons that people build dams. Some countries build dams to control the flow of water in the downstream river systems, and prevent flooding. Other countries build dams to generate electricity using hydroelectric turbine generators. Other countries use dams to store water for use in irrigation (for farming).

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