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Dams and Its Affect on Environment

Dams and Its Affect on Environment

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Published by: varinderksran on Feb 20, 2010
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06/07/2013

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Dams and its affect on environmentWhat is a Dam?
A dam is an artificial barrier usually constructed across a stream channel toimpound water. Timber, rock, concrete, earth, steel or a combination of thesematerials may be used to build the dam. Dams must have spillway systems tosafely convey normal stream and flood flows over, around, or through thedam. Spillways are commonly constructed of non-erosive materials such asconcrete. Dams should also have a drain or other water-withdrawal facility for control the pool or lake level and to lower or drain the lake for normalmaintenance and emergency purposes.
Following are the impacts of dam on environment
By the end of the 20th century, the dam industry had choked more than half of the earth's major rivers with more than 50,000 large dams. The consequencesof this massive engineering program have been devastating. The world's largedams have wiped out species; flooded huge areas of wetlands, forests andfarmlands; and displaced tens of millions of people.Hemlock Dam is located on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and was builtin 1935 to store irrigation water for the Wind River Nursery, which closed in1997, leaving the dam with no purpose and a growing list of problems. Thedam has become increasingly problematic over the past 70 years, not justbecause of its inadequate fish passage system but also because of the hightemperatures the dam creates in the slack water of its reservoir --temperatures that can be fatal to the threatened wild steelhead that make itpast the dam to areas where the fish historically thrived.
(a) Creation of a reservoir 
The damming of a river creates a reservoir upstream from the dam. Thereservoir waters spill out into the surrounding environments, flooding thenatural habitats that existed before the dam’s construction. According torecent studies, reservoirs contribute to greenhouse gas emissions as well.The initial filling of a reservoir floods the existing plant material, leading to thedeath and decomposition of the carbon-rich plants and trees. The rottingorganic matter releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Thedecaying plant matter itself settles to the non-oxygenated bottom of thestagnant reservoir, and the decomposition—unmitigated by a flow pattern thatwould oxygenate the water—produces and eventually releases dissolvedmethane.
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(b)Fragmentation of river ecosystems
A dam also acts as a barrier between the upstream and downstream habitatof migratory river animals, such as chinook and steelhead salmon in the USAand Atlantic salmon in Europe. Dams block their migration upstreamtospawn, threatening to decrease reproduction numbers and reduce thespecies population. Fish sometimes have difficulty migrating downstreamthrough a dam, meaning that downstream populations are often reducedunless, the fish are able to swim safely through the dams’ spillways
(c) Sedimentation behind the dam
Rivers carry four different types of sediment down their riverbeds, allowing for the formation of riverbanks, river deltas, alluvial fans, braided rivers, oxbowlakes, levees and coastal shores. The construction of a dam blocks the flow of sediment downstream, leading to downstream erosion of these Sedimentarydepositional environment depositional environments, and increased sedimentbuild-up in the reservoir.
(d)Riverline and coastal erosion
As all dams result in reduced sediment load downstream, a dammed river issaid to be “hungry” for sediment. Because the rate of deposition of sedimentis greatly reduced since there is less to deposit but the rate of erosion remainsnearly constant, the water flow eats away at the river shores and riverbed,threatening shoreline ecosystems, deepening the riverbed, and narrowing theriver over time. This leads to a compromised water table, reduced water levels, homogenization of the river flow and thus reduced ecosystemvariability, reduced support for wildlife, and reduced amount of sedimentreaching coastal plains and deltas.
(e)
 
Impacts on fish
Few fish are adapted to both lotic and lentic habitats. Consequently, thetransformation of a river to a reservoir often results in the extirpation of residentriverine species. Downstream of dams, marked changes in fish populations occur asa consequence of blockage of migration routes, disconnection of the river andfloodplain and changes in flow regime, physiochemical lconditions (e.g. temperature,turbidity and dissolved oxygen), primary production and channel morphology. Thesechanges may benefit some species but they generally have an adverse effect on themajority of native species. The 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals includes617 freshwater fishes (i.e. about6% of the known number of freshwater species).Other researchers have speculated that globally between 20% and 35% of allfreshwater fish are threatened (Staissny 1996). Although the loss of species is notsolely a consequence of dams, they are one of the principal factors. It is estimatedthat half the fish stocks endemic to the Pacific coast of the USA have been lost in thepast century to a large extent because of dam construction.
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(f)Water temperature
The water of a reservoir is usually warmer in the winter and cooler in thesummer than it would be without a dam. As this water flows into its river, thealtered temperature also affects the temperature of the river in TemperatureChange in Klamath. This impacts the plant and animal life present in both thereservoir and the river, often creating environments that are unnatural to theendemic species.
(g)Effects on Humans
While dams are helpful to humans, they can also be harmful as well. One conof dams is the fact that the artificial lakes created by dams become breedinggrounds for disease. This holds true especially in tropical areas wheremosquitoes (Malaria) and snails can take advantage of this slow flowingwater. Another disadvantage of dams to humans is that if built close enoughto their homes, relocation is imminent. This is the case of the Three Gorgesdam that is being built in China. The Three Gorges dam will take over a largeamount of land forcing over a million people to relocate. 
(h)Effects on the Earth Itself 
Dams have been found to alter the climate of the earth. This is due to the factthat dams generate methane gas, a greenhouse gas. Methane is emitted fromreservoirs that are stratified and where the bottom layers are anoxic, leadingto degradation of biomass through anaerobic processes. Climate Change andDams: An Analysis of the Linkages Between the UNFCCC Legal Regime andDams. As a result of the climate alterations the following is a list of possibleeffects:Dams look beautiful if correctly built but they can mess up the environmentRise in sea level (could flood lower elevation areas)Shift of climatic zones tothe poles .Unmanaged ecosystems may face new climate based stresses.Effect on water resources as precipitation and evaporation may change
Another effect that dams have on the earth is affecting the rotation of the earth.
Each of the dams in the world hold a reservoir of water thatcontains at least 2.4 cubic miles of water that weigh around 10 billion metrictons. The result of this has increased the Earth's spin because more water has been relocated closer to the Earth's axis. Currently it is presumed that theacceleration of the Earth's rotation has no ill effect on the global environmentor people but it will still be kept in consideration for long-term changes inglobal motion.
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