Jul 09

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Old Dams Die Hard

Deteriorating dam infrastructure is a “dam” shame. Listen up:

A mechanical excavator breaking the old Cofferdam. (D. Zimmer/USFWS)

Dam removal is a tough job, but somebody qualified’s gotta do it! (via D. Zimmer/USFWS)

Let’s face it: no dam lives forever. Many of the nation’s estimated 75,000 dams have been providing important services like hydropower or irrigation since the early 1900s—and their time for removal or serious repair has come.

How do such sturdy structures crumble in the first place? Bill Sturtevant, a Wisconsin state dam safety engineer, explains that over time, the dam’s concrete portions deteriorate, its steel rusts out, and its embankments become weakened.

He also says these old dams can have a negative impact on the environment.

“Any dammed river, stream [or] creek will have the effect of warming up the water as it sits in the impoundment, and increasing phosphorus loads and other nutrients,” Sturtevant points out.

Don’t break out the hammer and nails just yet, though. Dam removals or repairs must be done carefully (aka by dam engineering pros) to avoid unintended consequences downstream.

 Get schooled:

The fine print:


Permanent link to this article: http://www.currentcast.org/water-and-energy/environmental-impact-of-old-dams/