Types of Dams

From ancient times to modern-day engineering, the construction of dams has been an essential practice for many civilizations. Dams come in all shapes and sizes and can lead to incredible projects that supply freshwater and electricity.

In this post, we’ll explore the intriguing history behind dam building as well as four primary types of dams – gravity, embankment (earth fill), arch, and buttress dams – that are still used today! Read on to discover more about the varieties of structures our ancestors created in order to capture water.

Types of Dams

Types of Dams

Arch Dam

An arch dam is an incredibly efficient type of dam that uses the curved, arching nature of its structure to prevent water from being displaced outward.

Compared to other types of dams, it requires less building material and can span a larger area while still retaining an adequate level of strength between opposing banks.

Its design works by allowing pressure from the reservoir behind the structure to push inward, forming the arch shape and providing stability against water pressure.

Arch dams are commonly used in large reservoirs where space is a valuable commodity and swift, powerful rivers are present.

Buttress Dam

A buttress dam is a type of construction that is designed to withstand pressure from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. This structure consists of a concrete wall situated at an angle so that the force of moving water pushes against it.

The use of buttress dams has been critically important in controlling flooding and providing safe waterways for areas with large river systems like the Mississippi or Amazon Rivers.

Not only are they great for controlling the movement of water, but they also provide long-term protection to homes and businesses near rivers, lake shores, and coasts.

Coffer Dam

A cofferdam is an incredibly ingenious type of structure. It is a temporary watertight enclosure constructed to permit the work on a construction project in or around a body of water.

It allows workers to divert or block off water, creating an entirely dry area so they can carry out tasks that would otherwise be near impossible due to the proximity of a body of water.

Historically, such structures have been used for projects like building bridges and dams, but today they can also be used for repairs and maintenance operations that involve piling work and anchoring operations. 

Diversion Dam

A diversion dam is a multi-functional structure, designed to shape and manage the flow of a waterway. Whether it’s redirecting water for flood control and irrigation purposes, or enhancing fish habitats and recreation opportunities, these dams are invaluable to our environment and necessary infrastructure in many locations.

For instance, when used within the context of agricultural production, diversion dams effectively divert part of the stream flow from its natural course into irrigation canals.

Meanwhile, if the waters are diverted for recreational use, the land above can be opened up for campsites or trails.

Embankment Dam

An embankment dam is an impressive engineering feat that is used to hold back water and wield great power over its flow.

It consists of a vast barrier constructed with materials such as sand, gravel, clay, and rock that are typically sourced from the area surrounding the dam itself.

Such dams can be used to support a multi-functional purpose, typically providing both a means for hydroelectricity and flood control capabilities.

In addition, embankment dams are also outfitted with outlets for discharging controlled flows of water downstream and navigable spillways to alleviate the impact of large storms on the area in which they protect.

Gravity Dam

A gravity dam is a structure used to retain water or other liquids, like molten material. It works by using its own weight to counteract the force of the liquid trying to escape the bounds of the enclosure. These structures are incredibly resilient and can be built from concrete or masonry materials.

Gravity dams can be used in a variety of applications, whether it be redirecting the flow of a river for irrigation or hydroelectric purposes, creating a reservoir or pooling groundwater, or simply holding back excessive quantities of water during times of high rainfall.

Essentially, this kind of dam gives humans control over powerful waterways – an invaluable tool for managing natural resources.

Hydropower Dam

Hydropower dams have a major impact on both the human landscape and the natural environment. They are an engineering marvel constructed to use the kinetic energy of moving water to generate electricity.

A hydropower dam is made up of turbines, generators, and a reservoir of water held back by an artificial barrier that powers it all.

This form of renewable energy produces no emissions or pollutants and is used around the world mostly for electrical energy production from oceans, rivers, and other waterways.

Not only do these structures provide much-needed electricity, but they also offer flood prevention services, irrigation for agricultural needs, recreation areas with access to boating and fishing opportunities, as well as aquatic habitats for local wildlife.

Industrial Waste Dam

An industrial waste dam is an infrastructure used for the storage of treated and untreated industrial wastewater. This purpose-built structure helps protect the environment by acting as a barrier, stopping industrial runoff from entering lakes, rivers, and streams.

It ensures that wastewater is stored properly while decontamination processes are carried out until the water reaches a suitable purity level to be released safely into nature.

Industrial waste dams provide a vast amount of benefits for commercial operations in terms of safe decontamination but also from an environmental perspective by protecting habitats and ecosystems from the potential pollution caused by improperly managed discharge materials.

Masonry Dam

A Masonry Dam is a structure made of solid masonry or brick and mortar, designed to contain water. This type of dam allows the flow of water in one direction and can be used to control flooding and divert water for irrigation, power generation, and other purposes.

It has withstood the test of time – some Masonry Dams from centuries ago remain standing today as evidence of their durability.

Masonry Dams are also an important part of maintaining habitats for wildlife as these are often used as lake reservoirs that create or restore wetlands.

Finally, Masonry Dams are aesthetically pleasing and have served as stunning backdrops in movies, television shows, photographs, and many more works of art.

Overflow Dam

An overflow dam is a structure used to control the flow of water, allowing it to safely exceed its prescribed flood limit.

Essentially, overflow dams regulate the exchange of water between bodies of land and bodies of water – preventing flooding, relieving pressure on existing dams, and protecting lowland areas from high freshwater levels.

An overflow dam’s ingenious design makes this possible, yet its installation requires painstaking measurements for maximum effectiveness.

Overflow dams are critical pieces of infrastructure in many regions around the world and are integral for protecting precious land from damage caused by excessive amounts of water. Without them, countless acres of housing, industry, and natural ecosystems would be at risk!

Regulating (Afterbay) Dam

Regulating (Afterbay) dams are an important part of water management systems. They play a vital role in protecting downstream dams, streams, wetlands, and rivers from flooding while still providing necessary access to irrigation water.

These regulating dams store large amounts of water during times of peak flow and can be used to release the excess in a controlled way over time.

They also assist with controlling silt and sediment buildup, as well as streamflow stabilization so that downstream communities will have constant access to fresh water throughout the year.

Regulating (Afterbay) dams are essential for managing hydraulic impacts on natural ecosystems, helping to maintain and improve their health for decades to come.

Saddle Dam (or Dike)

Saddle dikes (also known as saddle dams) are a type of low-head dam used for irrigational purposes. Built to divert water from rivers or creeks into irrigation canals, saddle dikes act as a barrier that helps contain and control water levels.

They are typically constructed of earth and masonry structures such as concrete and brick; however, some can also be made from rocks and other natural materials.

Additionally, they serve to reduce erosion caused by running water while simultaneously collecting sediment downstream.

While certain saddle dikes may simply function as a check valve, others may also include sluice gates or floodgates which increase their versatility in protecting nearby properties or aiding in the removal of debris and other foreign objects in the waterways.

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