Dam Performance and Safety

Monday, October 22, 2007

Teton Dam fails
Teton Dam fails
Dam safety is a huge global concern. While individual dams built today are likely to be much more secure than those built 50 years ago, the global stock of dams as a whole is ageing. Around the world, 5,000 large dams are at least 50 years old; the average US dam is in its 40s. These older dams are highly prone to dam bursts, especially in countries that lack adequate monitoring.

As dams get old they become increasingly more expensive to maintain. Worldwide, there is systematic underfunding of dam maintenance. No figures are available for the cost of making the world's dams safe. A ballpark figure for the global under-investment in dam safety would be $300 billion.

Most alarmingly, the world's more than 54,000 existing large dams have not been built to allow for the erratic hydrological patterns that climate change is bringing. In this sense, all dams should now be considered unsafe. More extreme storms and increasingly severe floods will have major implications for dam safety. In addition, there is increasing concern that dams can trigger earthquakes as a result of the weight of the reservoir, among other factors. Earthquakes also increase the probability of dam failure and the risk of downstream flooding.

More information: 

Learn more about soft-path flood management for a warming world.

Learn more about dam decommissioning.

Learn why it's the Wrong Climate for Damming Rivers.