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What are the Negative Effects of Building Large Hydroelectric Dams?

8/29/11 11:37 AM

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Negative Impacts of Hydroelectric Dams

Written by: Chief Engineer Mohit Sanguri Edited by: Lamar Stonecypher
Published May 13, 2010

Dams are built worldwide to store water for irrigation, flood control, and to generate electricity. The negative
effects of building large hydroelectric dams are commonly known and environmentalists are at loggerheads
with governments. Since electricity is also needed, what is the best solution?

Need for Building Dams

Dams are built all over the world due to the needs of controlling floods, storing water for irrigation during dry
months, for drinking water, navigation, and for the generation of electricity. Earlier dams were being built at
such a speed that every day a dam would be commissioned somewhere in the world. Until now some 800,000
dams have been constructed worldwide. But now the negative effects of large hydroelectric dams have been
studied and much caution is being taken before planning and constructing them.
Not all dams are constructed for the generation of electricity. Some of them are just for the storage of water for
the dry months. Hydroelectric power plants are of different types, and not all require a reservoir of water to be Concepts of Architecture
built. There are different types of hydroelectric power plants which are as follows: Concrete Technology
1. Storage type hydroelectric power plants with dams for collecting and storing water. Water can be stored Construction Equipment
for summer months or for dry years, depending on the capacity of the reservoir. Construction Materials
2. Run of the river type of hydroelectric power plants that do not collect water but are built on rivers which Engineering Wonders
have a good flow and natural rivers coming from a height having good potential energy. Environmental Engineering
3. Pumped storage types of hydroelectric power plants where water is pumped up to a reservoir in off peak General
hours and electricity is generated in peak hours to supplement the production. It is like a storage facility Geotechnical Engineering
for the electricity. Hydraulics
Interior Designing
Structural Engineering
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Advantages of Dams
In spite of all the hue and cry about the negative effects of dams, they have lots of advantages, too. The
advantages of the hydroelectric dam are as follows:
Topography of the Ocean Floor
1. It is a clean, efficient, and reliable form of energy. Geotechnical Surveys
2. It does not emit any direct pollutants or greenhouse gases. Negative Impacts of Hydroelectric Dams
3. Only the initial cost is high; they are very inexpensive to operate.
Geotechnical Topics: Soil Compaction
4. Electricity generated by hydro-electric power plants is the cheapest electricity generated.
5. Dams stop the flooding of the rivers and the harmful effects of it. Reading a Survey Plat
6. Dams store water for irrigation in summer seasons and dry months. Many desert areas can now do Alternatives to Gate Valves in Stormwater and
farming due to the dams and the canals that supply water. Wastewater Drainage Systems
7. Dams supply water for supply to local population for drinking needs.
Geotechnical Topics: Soil Classification
8. Fish farming can be done in dams and produces revenue. Page 1 of 3
What are the Negative Effects of Building Large Hydroelectric Dams? 8/29/11 11:37 AM

Negative Impact of Dams How Soil Liquefaction Occurs

Geotechnical Topics: Soil Permeability
The negative effects of large hydroelectric dams are as follows:
The Coefficient of Passive Lateral Earth
1. In flat basins large dams cause flooding of large tracts of land. It has the effect of killing local animals Pressure
and habitats.
2. People have to be displaced causing change in life style and customs, even causing emotional scarring.
About 40 to 80 million people have been displaced physically by dams worldwide.
3. Large amounts of plant life are submerged and decay anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen)
generating greenhouse gases like methane. It is estimated that a hydroelectric power plant produces 3.5
times of greenhouse gases as compared to a thermal power plant burning fossil fuels.
4. The migratory pattern of river animals like salmon and trout are affected and in the future may be wiped
5. Dams restrict the sediments that were responsible for the fertile lands downstream. Now farmers use
chemical fertilizers and pesticides to compensate the loss in productivity.
6. Salt water intrusion into the deltas means that the saline water cannot be used for irrigation.
7. Large dams are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and cause the spread of diseases.
8. Farmers downstream who used to wait for the flooding of the fields to plant their seeds are affected.
9. Dams serve as a heat sink, and the water is hotter than the normal river water. This warm water when
released into the river downstream can affect animal life.
10. Peak power operations can change the water level up to thirty to forty feet in one day and can kill the
animals staying at the shorelines.
11. Around 400,000 km2 of land worldwide has been submerged due to the construction of dams.


Solution to the Problems

Dams will be built in future as the demands for electricity are increasing, however the negative effects of the
dams on the flora, fauna, and the local population can be reduced by the following methods:

1. Fish passages should be created to aid in the migration of the fish.

2. New dam sites should be chosen with the environmental impacts in mind.
3. Local people should be led into confidence and must be suitably re-settled.
4. Proper compensation as per the market rate should be given.
5. Religious monuments of historic significance should be shifted.
6. Endangered species can be relocated.

If the political will to change and do a good job is there a dam can be constructed by minimizing its effects on
the people and the environment. By proper planning and suitable selection of site for the dam building the
environmental effects can be minimized and still the much needed electricity can be generated.

Image Credits

1. Hydroelectric Dam:

2. Dam:


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Ten Largest Hydroelectric Power Plants of the World: Part-1 Page 2 of 3
What are the Negative Effects of Building Large Hydroelectric Dams? 8/29/11 11:37 AM

Top Ten Largest Hydroelectric Power Plants of the World: Part-4

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COMMENT Showing 1-1 of 1 comments

Anonymous Oct 3, 2010 2:45 AM

thank you 4 d info
now i have an idea to start my speech about dis topic

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