A dam is a barrier that holds water or underground streams. Dams usually hold water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees (dikes) are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. A dam can also be used to collect water or for storage of water which can be evenly distributed between locations.
Most early dam building took place in Mesopotamia and the Middle East. Dams were used to control the water level, for Mesopotamiaâ€™s weather affected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and could be quite unpredictable.
The earliest known dam is the Jawa Dam in Jordan, 100 km northeast of the capital Amman. This gravity dam featured a 4.5 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-el-Kafara Dam 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.
Roman dam construction was characterized by the Romansâ€™ ability to plan and organize engineering construction on a grand scale. Roman planners introduced concept of large reservoir dams which could secure a permanent water supply for urban settlements also over the dry season. Their use of water-proof hydraulic mortar and particularly Roman concrete allowed for much larger dam structures than previously built, such as the Lake Homs Dam, possibly the largest water barrier to date, and the Harbaqa Dam, both in Roman Syria. The highest Roman dam was the Subiaco Dam near Rome; its record height of 50 m remained unsurpassed until its accidental destruction in 1305.
Roman engineers made routine use of ancient standard designs like embankment dams and masonry gravity dams. Apart from that, they displayed a high degree of inventiveness, introducing most of the other basic dam designs which had been unknown until then. These include arch-gravity dams, arch dams, buttress dams and multiple arch buttress dams, all of which were known and employed by the 2nd century AD. Roman workforces also were the first to build dam bridges, such as the Bridge of Valerian in Iran.
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 river in Tamil Nadu, South India. The basic structure dates to the 1st century AD. and is considered one of the oldest water-diversion structures in the world.
, which is still in use. The purpose of the dam was to divert the waters of the Kaveri 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 irrigationreservoir (62 miles in circumference), a reservoir that is still present today.
In Iran, bridge dams such as the Band-e Kaisar were used to provide hydropower through water wheels, which often powered water-raising mechanisms. One of the first was the Roman-built dam bridge 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 10th century, Al-Muqaddasidescribed several dams in Persia. He reported that one in Ahwaz was more than 3,000 feet long, and that and it had many water-wheels raising the water into aqueducts through which it flowed into reservoirs of the city. Another one, the Band-i-Amir dam, provided irrigation for 300 villages.
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 placeâ€™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, covering the original place of the 800 year old dam, still carries the nameDam Square or simply the Dam.
The age of hydropower and large dams emerged following the development of the turbine. French engineer BenoÃ®t Fourneyron perfected the first water turbine in 1832. The era of mega-dam building was initiated after Hoover Dam was completed on the Colorado River in 1936. By 1997, there were an estimated 800,000 dams worldwide, some 40,000 of them over fifteen meters high.
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 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.