Summative Assessment: Dam Debate



We will build upon the online module content and written assignments for the Aswan High (Nile River), Three Gorges (Yangtze River), and Glen Canyon (Colorado River) Dams, and hold three in-class debates centered on the positive and negative impacts of each of three well known large dams. Students will break up to form small teams (2-3 members each) for each position (pro and con) for each of the three dams. At the end there should be 6 teams of 2-3 students, each taking the "pro" or "con" side on one of the dams. Each team will present their arguments in a format detailed below that allows for an exchange of views.

Thinking About Systems

Note that dammed rivers are complex systems, with many interlinked processes occurring up and down stream. When considering building a dam, all of these combined processes must be considered at once, making this a very tricky issue. Although you are trying to make a clear case for or against damming a river in the debate, resist the temptation to over-simplify the issue. Instead, force yourself to delve into the cascade of consequences building or not building a dam could have for a region - including agriculture, industry, energy, public health, etc.


  • Each team will have the opportunity to present their primary argument(s) [8 minutes].
  • The arguments will be followed by a rebuttal [6 minutes].
  • At the conclusion of each of the debates, the rest of the group will render their “opinions”.
  • At the end of the class period, we will tally and discuss the outcomes.

We will consider a scenario in which the Three Gorges, Aswan High, and Glen Canyon Dams have yet to be built.

  1. Choose one of the three dams. Take a position for or against its construction, and develop the arguments to support your position. Draw upon the written assignments you completed as part of the online module.
  2. Your arguments and supporting material should reflect a clear understanding of the feedbacks between processes in the river system, and how dam construction would alter them. If your group is “against” dam construction, you’ll need to explain the negative aspects of disruption of the system. If your group is “for” dam construction, you’ll need to be ready to articulate and evaluate the effects of dams on inter-linked components of the river system, and construct arguments that weigh these against the benefits of dams.
  3. For whichever position you choose, articulate a plan to address the issues that you anticipate will arise if your course of action is adopted [i.e. be prepared to present a rebuttal of the opposing team’s arguments]. For example, if you argue against the Three Gorges Dam, how would you handle issues of flood control and potential loss of life and property? Would you attempt to offset the non-renewable energy generation that would replace hydroelectric power? If you argue for it, how would you address the range of environmental impacts?
  4. Prior to coming to class, prepare a one-page note sheet with factual information derived from the module and external reading (see References at the end of the Module) that you can use to support your argument. Be sure to include the source of each piece of information in case you are challenged!
  5. As an observer of other groups' debates, write a brief opinion (~1/2 page) with your “judgment” or “vote” on each of the debates you were not involved in. In each debate, which team convinced you of their position, and which arguments swayed you most? Do these apply to all large dam projects, or just those discussed in the debate?


1 page fact sheet (with references) supporting your argument

~1/2 page judgement or vote paper explaining which team made a stronger argument in each of the other two debates

Submitting Your Paper

Turn in your papers at the end of class.

Grading and Rubric

A scoring rubric will be provided by your instructor.