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What is dam?

A dam is a barrier built across a water course to hold back or control the water flow. Some
dams divert the flow of river water into a pipeline, canal, or channel. Others raise the level
of inland waterways to make them navigable by ships and barges. Many dams harness the
energy of falling water to generate electric power. Dams also hold water for drinking and
crop irrigation, and provide flood control.
A beaver dam is an example of a small dam. It is made by using sticks and mud to slow
down the flow of a stream or a river. This causes water to pool behind the jam of sticks and
mud which results in a new pond being built.
Large dams are more complex to build and take a lot of work, power, time and money. A
dam can be made of concrete, rocks, wood or earth. An example of a large dam is the Glen
Canyon Dam in Arizona. It is about 700 feet tall and is made of concrete.
The most important load that a dam must support is the water behind it. The water pushes
on the dam, creating water pressure. Water pressure increases with the depth of the water.
In greater depths, there is more water "piled up," which causes the pressure to be greater
at the bottom than at the surface. A dam's design must enable it to withstand greater
pressure at the bottom than at the top. As a result, many dams are built in a triangular
shape. The wide bottom withstands the great load of the water deep below the surface,
while the thinner top of the dam need not use unnecessarily costly materials.

Classification of dams
According to their functions, dams serve three main purposes: storage, diversion, or
Storage dams
Theyare constructed to impound water in periods of surplus supply for use in periods of
deficiency. Many small dams impound the spring runoff for later use in dry summers.
Storage dams may also provide a water supply, or improved habitat for fish and wildlife.
They may store water for hydroelectric power generation, irrigation or for a flood control
The specific purpose of a storage dam influences its design and determines the amount of
reservoir needed. Where multiple purposes are involved e.g. both power and irrigation,
reservoir allocation is usually made for each separate use. The volume of storage
establishes the height and width of the dam.
Diversion dams
They provide sufficient pressure for pushing water into ditches, canals, or other conveyance
systems. Such shorter dams are used for irrigation, and for diversion from a stream to a
distant storage reservoir.
Detention dams
They minimize the effect of sudden floods and trap sediment.
Overflow dams
They carry water discharge over their crests, and are made of materials that will not be
eroded by such discharges. Non-overflow dams are designed not to be overtopped, and
may include earth and rock in their structure. Often the two types are combined to form a
composite structure.
To prevent a dam from being overtopped, spillway structures carry off excess water. In
earthfill dams, essential spillways are built as separate structures, often a shaft or tunnel
adjacent to the dam. With concrete gravity dams, the downstream side of the structure acts
as the spillway

Dam structure and design

Earth fill dams
The development of modern construction equipment has made massive earth fill dams
economical. The Rogun and Nurek dams in Tajikistan, the world's highest, are earth fill
structures. Canada's Syncrude Tailings, which will be the world's most massive, is also an
earthfill structure.

Earthfill dams typically have a water-impermeable clay core, and a water cut-off wall from
their base to bedrock to prevent underground seepage. During construction, the stream or
river must be diverted either through the dam-site by means of a conduit, or around it by
means of a tunnel.
Earthfill dams require supplementary structures as spillways for discharging water from
behind the dam. If sufficient spillway capacity is not provided, an earthfill dam may be
damaged or even destroyed by the erosive water flowing over its crest. Unless special
precautions are taken, such dams are also subject to serious damage or even failure, due to
water seepage.
Embankment or rockfill dams
The rockfill dam uses rock instead of earth to provide stability. It has an impervious,
watertight membrane, usually an upstream facing of impervious soil, concrete paving, or
steel plates; or it may have a thin interior core of impervious soil.
Rockfill embankment dams and zoned-embankment dams are the most common
embankment dams. Rockfill embankment dams have a mound of loose rock covered with a
waterproof layer on the upstream side. The waterproof layer may be made of concrete, flat
stone panels, or other impervious materials. Zoned-embankment dams include an
impervious core surrounded by a mound of material that water can penetrate. The
supporting mound is usually made of loose rock or earth. The core might be built from
concrete, steel, clay, or any impervious materials.
Embankment dams hold back water by the force of gravity acting upon their mass.
Embankment dams require more material because loose rock and earth are less dense than
concrete. Engineers often choose to build them if the materials are readily available. Our
Tarbela Dam contains more than 126 million cubic metres earth and rock. This amounts to
more than 15 times the volume of concrete used in the Grand Coulee Dam.
Gravity dams
Gravity dams hold back water only by the sheer force of their weight pushing downward. To
do this, gravity dams must consist of a mass so heavy that the reservoir water cannot push
the dam downstream or tip it over. They are much thicker at the base than the top. As
water becomes deeper, it exerts more horizontal pressure on the dam. Gravity dams are
relatively thin near the surface of the reservoir, where the water pressure is light. A thick
base enables the dam to withstand more intense water pressure at the bottom of the
Most gravity dams are made from concrete, a mixture of port land cement, water, and
aggregates. Concrete is well suited for dam construction. A concrete gravity dam uses a
triangular cross-section and steep upstream face. Its shape differs from that of the earthfill
or rockfill dam in that its inward, water-facing side is perpendicular to the water surface; in
profile, the dam forms a right-angled triangle.
The Grand Coulee Dam contains nearly 8 million cubic metres concrete. It is one of the
most massive structures ever built, standing 168 metre high and 1,592 metre long.
Concrete Arch
Concrete arch dams are built in narrow, steep-walled canyons. The canyon walls take up
the thrust exerted by the arch and the pressure of the water. Such dams can be
extraordinarily thin. Vaiont Dam is 265 metres high, but only 22.7 metres thick at its base.
In comparison, Hoover Dam is 221 metres high and 201 metres thick at its base and has a
partial arch effect.
Glen Canyon Dam, which spans the Colorado River in Arizona, is the highest arch dam in
the United States. It is 216 metres high and 475 metres long but contains less than four
million cubic metres of concrete. Arch dams can be less expensive to build than gravity
Buttress dam
A buttress dam consists of a face supported by several buttresses on the downstream side.
Buttress dams are made of concrete reinforced with steel. Buttresses are typically spaced
across the dam site every 6 to 30 metre, depending upon the size and design of the dam.
Buttress dams are sometimes called hollow dams because the buttresses do not form a
solid wall stretching across a river valley.
Buttress dams require less concrete than gravity dams, but are not necessarily less
expensive to build. Costs associated with the complex work of forming the buttresses or
multiple arches may offset the savings in construction materials. Buttress dams may be
desirable, however, in locations with foundations that would not easily support the massive
size and weight of gravity dams.