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Selecting Sites for a

Hydroelectric Power Plant Dam

BSEN 5220
Final Project
December 3, 2014

Alexus Brown, Mary Catherine Rubisch, Hillary Saunders,

Calla Warren

Hydroelectric power plants are an attractive alternative to coal powered plants. Due to their
ability to produce electricity using the flow energy of power, they currently account for 56% of
renewable energy generated in the United States (National Hydropower Association). This
report identifies key locations for the construction of a new hydroelectric dam within the state of
Alabama, known for its strong rivers. Several factors were considered, including the topography
of the region, stability of the earth, the availability of a substantial amount of water, and an
elevated velocity. Using ArcGIS, layers of data were combined and analyzed to find four overall
locations that best suited the requirements.

The state of Alabama is included in the top ten states with hydroelectric power plants due to its
large rivers. Using ArcGIS, potential sites within the state were identified and mapped. A variety
of factors were considered, including the topography, geology and hydrography of the land.

The following objectives were considered in locating potential dam sites:

Hillside slopes of 20 degrees or greater

Located on a river
Water flow classified as rapids
Avoid fault lines
Avoid areas susceptible to landslides
Avoid building close to other dams
Avoid impaired waters for preservation of ecology

The data was downloaded from a variety of sources. Basic datasets including hydrography,
state borders, and DEMs were obtained from U.S. Geological Survey. Landslide and fault line
data was acquired from the Geological Survey of Alabama, and impaired water data was
provided by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Once found, the data was
projected to North America Albers Equal Area Conic through the data projection tools in
ArcCatalog. This was chosen for its high accuracy in mid-latitude areas on the Earth. Typically,
the State Plane would be more effective, but both the east and west zone of the state would
have had to be combined, introducing a potential for error.
Instead of obtaining data for the entire state, a general region was selected based off of
landslide susceptibility data (Figure 1), which indicated low probabilities for the mid-latitude
eastern side of the state. The rest of the data obtained was based off of this region (Figure 2).
Once loaded into ArcMap, any data outside of the state was clipped.

Figure 1: Landslide probability data for the state of Alabama

Figure 2: DEMs of actual region of Alabama considered for dam construction

Although data for river flow rate would have been preferred for this analysis, it was unable to be
located. Instead, the waterways of Alabama were narrowed down to only rivers, and within the
rivers, only rapid sections by using the definition query tool FTYPE = rapids. A buffer of 500
meters with the dissolve type set of all was put on the rapid locations to include any possible
areas near rapids instead of the rapids themselves (Figure 3). The buffers were then converted
to raster data.

Figure 3: Rapids were identified and buffered

To account for topography, slopes were extracted from each DEM set with the spatial analyst
tool (Figure 4). A minimum hillside angle of 20 degrees was arbitrarily selected to locate areas
where water flow had a high gravitational potential energy, and extracted using the raster
calculator command slope > 20. The values were then selected from the new raster using the
command VALUE = 1.

Figure 4: Extracted slope raster data

The buffer data was overlaid with the slope data for each DEM area using extract1rastrapidraster2 (Figure 5) so that only slopes within the 500 meter buffers were considered.

Figure 5: Combined slope (purple) and rapid (pink) data

The resulting raster data was converted into polygons to be combined with the last three layers
considered. Impaired water data, fault line data, and data for previously existing dams were
overlaid to avoid conflict of location (Figure 6).
Throughout analysis, environments were set to the extent of the state of Alabama.

Figure 6: Fault lines (left-depicted in yellow), impaired waters (middle-depicted in red), and
existing dams (right-depicted by green dots) overlaid with potential dam locations (depicted in

The analysis resulted in four potential locations that satisfy all requirements set forth. The
resulting map is located in Appendix 1. The four sites are located within the Coosa/Tallapoosa
river basin.

One of the greatest challenges posed in this analysis was the sheer amount of input data
necessary. The initial data consisted of almost 40 layers to sort through, and most of them were
poorly identified or redudant, making it difficult to tell what was actually needed. Through this
report an appreciation was gained for the data provided to us throughout the semester, as well
as the pre-set objectives. The analysis side of our project was fairly routine and straightforward
once we established which layers to focus on. Based on the requirements set and data used,
we believe that these are the four best possible locations to place a new dam in the state of

Karemi, H. (2008, November 30). Factors Affecting the Location of Hydroelectric Power Plants
Dams. Retrieved November 19, 2014, from Bright Hub Engineering:
National Hydropower Association. (n.d.). Hydropower is Available. Retrieved November 19,
2014, from National Hydropower Association:

Appendix I:
Map of Potential Locations for Hydroelectric Dam