The Future of Dams: Developing Nations
As may be evident from a re-examination of Figure 1 above, the era of major dam building is winding down, at least in the U.S. This is primarily because the best sites for large dams are now already being used; and because the impacts are more widely understood and, as a result, proposed dam construction projects face major challenges from environmental groups. Construction of large dams (defined as those higher than four stories) in North America and Europe peaked in the 1970’s - and the average age of the worlds large dams is 35 years. Nonetheless, in parts of the world, mainly in developing nations in Africa, Asia, and South America, there is substantial untapped potential for hydroelectric power.
During the 1900s, in the so-called “golden age” of dam building, one large dam was commissioned somewhere on Earth every day (World Commission on Dams, 2000). On the one hand, dams are effective and powerful tools for water distribution and management, power generation, and flood control - and thus indirectly facilitate economic development, food production, and industrialization. Indeed, major dams are often viewed as symbols of modernization and progress - although a work of fiction, you may recall this quote from the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou”, as the protagonist, Ulysses Everett McGill, and his sidekicks are saved by the onset of a flood:
“Out with the old spiritual mumbo jumbo, the superstitions, and the backward ways. We're gonna see a brave new world where they run everybody a wire and hook us all up to a grid. Yes, sir, a veritable age of reason.”