Problems With Big Dams
By the end of the 20th century, the dam industry had choked more than half of the Earth's major rivers with some 50,000 large dams. The consequences of this massive engineering program have been devastating. The world's large dams have wiped out species; flooded huge areas of wetlands, forests and farmlands; and displaced tens of millions of people.
Courtesy of James Syvitski at Colorado University, who produced the video with Bob Stallard of the USGS and Albert Kettner at CSDMS. Data from Alex de Sherbinin (CIESIN, University of Colorado), and Bernhard Lehner (Department of Geography, McGill University).
The "one-size-fits-all" approach to meeting the world's water and energy needs is also outdated: better solutions exist. While not every dam causes huge problems, cumulatively the world's large dams have replumbed rivers in a massive experiment that has left the planet's freshwaters in far worse shape than any other major ecosystem type, including tropical rainforests. In response, dam-affected communities in many parts of the world are working to resolve the legacies of poorly planned dams. Elsewhere (and especially in North America), communities are starting to take down dams that have outlived their usefulness, as part of a broader river restoration movement.
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Watch We All Live Downstream for a visual introduction to dams, rivers and people.
- Read "Greenwashing Hydropower": The Problems with Big Dams.
- Watch Hydropower: Not As Clean As You Think for an introduction to why big dams are not the answer to our changing climate.
- Damned Rivers, Damned Lives: The case against large dams
- A Crisis of Mismanagement: Real solutions to the world's water problems
- Beyond Hydropower: Energy options for the 21st century
- Warming the Earth: Hydropower threatens efforts to curb climate change
- The Coming Storm: Preparing for a warming water world