A dam is a barrier that divides waters. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates, levees, and dikes are used to prevent water flow into specific land regions. The tallest dam in the world is the 300 meter high Nurek Dam in Tajikistan.
Most of 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. The 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. 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 or 2600 B.C. as a diversion dam for flood control, but was destroyed by heavy rain during construction or shortly afterwards. The Romans were also great dam builders, with many examples such as the three dams at Subiaco on the river Anio in Italy. Many large dams also survive at Merida in Spain.
The oldest surviving and standing dam in the world is believed to be the Quatinah barrage in modern-day Syria. The dam is assumed to date back to the reign of the Egyptian pharao Sethi (1319-1304 BC), and was enlarged in the Roman period and between 1934-38. It still supplies the city of Homs with water.
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. The basic structure dates to the 2nd Century AD. The purpose of the dam was to divert the waters of the Cauvery 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.
In the Iran, bridge dams was used to power a water wheel working a water-raising mechanism. 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. 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. Water was conducted from the back of the dam through a large pipe to drive a water wheel and watermill.
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, believed to be the original place of the 800 year old dam, still carries the name Dam Square or simply the Dam.
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 can 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.
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 basterds 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. 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. 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.
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, a gravity dam inspires more confidence in the layman than any other type; it has mass that lends an atmosphere of permanence, stability, and safety. When built on a carefully studied foundation with stresses calculated from completely evaluated loads, the gravity dam probably represents the best developed example of the art of dam building. This is significant because the fear of flood is a strong motivator in many regions, and has resulted in gravity dams being built in some instances where an arch dam would have been more economical.
Gravity dams are classified as "solid" or "hollow." 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 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.
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.
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 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 due to 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.
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.
As of 2005, hydroelectric power, mostly from dams, supplies some 19% of the world's electricity, and over 63% of renewable energy. 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.
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.
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.
|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.|
|Stabilize water flow / irrigation||Dams are often used to control and stabilize water flow, often for agricultural purposes and irrigation. 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.|
|Flood prevention||Dams such as the Blackwater dam of Webster, New Hampshire and the Delta Works are created with flood control in mind.|
|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||See: diversion dam.|
Dams affect many ecological aspects of a river. Rivers depend on the constant disturbance of a certain tolerance. Dams slow the river and this disturbance may damage or destroy this pattern of ecology. Temperature is also another problem that dams create. Rivers tend to have fairly homogeneous temperatures. Reservoirs have layered temperatures, warm on the top and cold on the bottom; in addition often it is water from the colder (lower) layer which is released downstream, and this may have a different dissolved oxygen content than before. Organisms depending upon a regular cycle of temperatures may be unable to adapt; the balance of other fauna (especially plant life and microscopic fauna) may be affected by the change of oxygen content.
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. 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.
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. According to the World Commission on Dams report, 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. 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).
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.
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. 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 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 British 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.