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What is a dam?

MVSAT 2024

A dam is a structure that is built on rivers, streams, or estuaries for conserving water. It directly helps to supply people with adequate water for consumption, industrial and irrigation purposes. Broadly, modern dams can be classified into 2 types– concrete dams and embankments. Concrete dams or masonry dams block streams that run through narrow gorges, whereas embankments control streams and rivers which flow through broad valleys. 

An example of a masonry Dam in India is Nagarjuna Sagar Dam located in  Andhra Pradesh. An example of an Embankment Dam in India is the Tehri Dam, located in Uttarakhand. A large section of India’s population suffers from a water crisis or mismanagement of water resources. To begin with, there is not enough clean water for drinking or irrigation purposes in many parts of the country. On the other hand, flash floods are also frequent in many regions. As a means to remedy this persistent problem, man-made structures like dams and reservoirs have been constructed across streams and rivers. The article discusses the uses, the main advantages and disadvantages of dams.

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Uses of Dams

Since we have developed a basic understanding of what a dam is, let us look into the uses of dams. It is considered as a significant water resource. They provide water for a variety of reasons, including home usage, irrigation, and industrial applications. Dams are also utilized to produce hydropower power and make river transportation easier. Dams are becoming increasingly important in everyday activities. Moreover, dams also promote local tourism thus contributing to national development. There are several uses of dams. Some of the most common ones are as follows 

  • The water conserved in reservoirs provides freshwater to residential, industrial, and mining areas. 

  • The conserved water satiates irrigation purposes.

  • Facilitates the process of generating energy from renewable sources, like hydropower.

  • Helps to regulate the flow of water of rivers and streams and protects communities residing down in the valley.

  • Facilitates water conservation for meeting future requirements.


With that being said, let’s proceed to find out the associated merits and demerits of dams.

Advantages of Dams

Dams offer an array of economic, social and environmental benefits and are useful for most problems pertaining to water conservation and its crisis management. On that note, let’s glance through the top advantages of dams – 

  • Water Storage

Arguably, this is one of the primary uses of dams and reservoirs. The water stored in reservoirs helps to make up for water crises in dry seasons. It also ensures the regular water supply for residential, industrial and agricultural consumption.

  • Flood Control

Undoubtedly, mitigating floods is a major importance of dams. Dams help to control the flow of floodwater by diverting its course towards other uses, storing the excess water or releasing it with caution. In turn, it helps to save lives and resulting displacement.

  • Irrigation

One of the most significant merits of dams is the role they play in irrigation. Dams have helped farmers tackle the problem of watering crops significantly, which has resulted in a boost in crop production.

  • Electricity Production

Over the years, hydropower has emerged as an effective way of meeting the energy crisis in many regions of India. Also, being a clean source of energy, hydropower does not contribute to any kind of pollution. Tehri Dam, Srisailam Dam, and Sardar Sarovar Dam are some of the top hydropower plants in India.

  • Debris Control

Besides mitigating floods, dams often prove useful in retaining detrimental sedimentation. In fact, they may also come in handy in preventing the disposition of hazardous material and subsequent contamination.

  • Recreation

One of the benefits of dams is that they also provide recreational facilities to human beings. One can enjoy boating, skiing and fishing in the stagnant water. Maithon dam and Bhakra Nangal dam are popular among tourists as recreational hubs.


Disadvantages of Dams

Irrespective of their array of benefits, dams have a significant share of disadvantages. The following offers a brief idea about it.

  • Displacement of people during construction.

  • Reservoirs often emit a high percentage of greenhouse gases.

  • Often disrupts local ecosystems.

  • It disrupts the groundwater table.

  • Blocks progression of water to other countries, states or regions.


In conclusion of the article, we have discussed the advantages and disadvantages of dams, we have learned about the uses of a dam.

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FAQs on Dams

1. Why are Dams Built?

Dams are built to store water, meet irrigation requirements and mitigate flood-oriented disasters. Dams also play a significant role in generating a clean source of energy through hydropower and help to meet the energy crisis.

2. What are Dams Used For?

Dams regulate the flow of rivers and streams. They also come in handy for preventing flash floods in low-lying lands and valleys. Over the years, dams have emerged useful for generating hydro-electricity.

3. Name 5 Largest Dams in India.

These are the 5 largest dams in India –

i. Tehri Dam, Uttarakhand

ii. Hirakud Dam, Odisha

iii.  Sardar Sarovar Dam, Gujrat

iv. Bhakra Nangal Dam, Himachal Pradesh

v. Nagarjuna Sagar Dam, Andhra Pradesh. 

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