Basically, a dam is a barrier that prevents or restricts the flow of water or groundwater. Dams have been used for agricultural, industrial purposes, and domestic use for thousands of years. In this graphic article, we’ll consider different ways dams and reservoirs help achieve economic, environmental, and energy goals. Finally, you’ll be able to decide if their impact is worth the gain.

Dams and reservoirs have four main functions:

IRRIGATION

Irrigation refers to the process of getting water for crops to meet their water needs. Most importantly, it provides water for the growth, development, germination, and other needs of plants. In fact, nearly 30-40% of the irrigated croplands get their water from dams. There’s a problem though. Recently, studies show that irrigation dams typically fail to reach the needed amount of water.  This is due to engineering mistakes and problems. Despite this however, irrigated areas have increased from 70% to 100% for the past ten years.

HYDROELECTRIC POWER

These dams can collect gravitational energy to make some of the needed electrical power. In fact, around 19% of the electrical power supply worldwide comes from hydroelectric dams.

Most hydroelectric power production comes from the energy of flowing water. Basically, the water drives turbines and generators. So, the power is made from the water current.

SUPPLY WATER

Most commonly, dams create reservoirs by forming big natural or man-made lakes. Then, our homes and factories can use the stored reservoir water.  However, the water first needs to go to a special treatment plant.  Finally, water treatment plants make the water safe for drinking.

FLOOD CONTROL

Reservoirs prevent downstream flooding. Basically, they stop flooding by maintaining and regulating the water flow during floods. Additionally, they also balance water flow based on weather conditions. Also, reservoirs can hold water back during heavy rains and release more during a dry spell.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL COSTS OF DAMS

Dams and reservoirs are created to provide a benefit to people.  Unfortunately, they can also have a major impact on our environment. People that live close to dams are especially impacted.

Environmental Impacts include:

Changing Aquatic Ecosystems

Building a dam in a river leads to vast changes in aquatic ecosystems. The worst outcome is habitat loss.  Habitat loss is the biggest cause of extinction. Also, reservoirs can change the chemical balance and temperature of a body of water. These changes can make it less suitable for certain fish. Eventually, this can lead to the loss of some fish species.  Changes in the ecosystem can also make it easier for predators to easily reach fish.

Sedimentation

Dams and reservoirs can decrease the biodiversity of an area. As the flow of water decreases, sedimentation increases. Sedimentation is when particles that would normally flow through an area get caught in one place.  Then that sediment settles in the water. Sediment can bury rock beds where fish lay eggs or cover up other important food and habitat features.

Greenhouse Gas Emission

The reservoirs cause rotting vegetation in the water. This causes decomposition. Decomposition causes greenhouse gases, methane, and carbon dioxide.

Evaporation

Open surfaces of the reservoirs speed up water loss by the evaporation process. Generally, much more water is lost from reservoirs than is lost from the flowing rivers they replaced. Furthermore, increased evaporation can affect the microclimate and ecosystems of an area.

Seismic Activity

Did you know that large dams can trigger seismic activity? That is to say, they make earthquakes. This is due to changes in the stress of the weight of water, or increased groundwater pressure that decreases the strength of the rock under the reservoir. In short, the changes in water levels can make the bedrock unstable.

SOCIAL EFFECTS

Forces People to Move

displacement of people population

Dam and reservoir construction causes serious social problems. Above all, is population displacement. Recently, an estimated 80 million people worldwide were forced to move due to dam projects. Unfortunately, these people are rarely paid for their losses of housing or the for the cost to relocate.

Human Health Risks

Health risks Human health risks

Reservoirs are an ideal breeding ground for parasites, especially mosquitoes. Overall, these parasites spread disease to nearby areas and can create serious health problems.

STEPS THAT MUST BE TAKEN

steps to take dams reservoirs alternative energy research hydroelectric dams environmental social damage

The important steps that need to be taken to reduce the social and environmental impacts of dams include:

  • First, teardown of old dams and reservoirs.
  • Second, increase the production ability of existing hydroelectric dams.
  • Third, research and better usage of water in agriculture.
  • Finally, build new dams in areas where the environmental and societal damage will be small

In conclusion, building dams in the least environmentally harmful areas is hard.  Unfortunately, the most environmentally friendly locations may not be the most economical.

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