Dam Safety 101

Dams Are a Vital Part of the National Infrastructure

Dams provide a life-sustaining resource to people in all regions of the United States. They are an extremely important part of this nation’s infrastructure—equal in importance to bridges, roads, airports, and other major elements of the infrastructure. They can serve several functions at once, including water supply for domestic, agricultural, industrial, and community use; flood control; recreation; and clean, renewable energy through hydropower. Some of the benefits of dams are:

  • Irrigation: Ten percent of American cropland is irrigated using water stored behind dams.
  • Electrical generation: The US is one of the largest producers of hydropower in the world, second only to Canada. Dams produce 8-12 percent of the nation's power needs.
  • Flood control: Dams built with the assistance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service provide an estimated $1.7 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damage, recreation, water supplies, and wildlife habitat. Dams owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority produce electricity and prevent an average of about $280 million in flood damage each year.
  • Renewable, clean energy: Without hydropower, the US would have to burn an additional 121 million tons of coal, 27 million barrels of oil, and 741 billion cubic feet of natural gas combined.
  • Water storage: Dams create reservoirs that supply water for a multitude of uses, including fire control irrigation, recreation, domestic and industrial water supply, and more.
  • Navigation: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation projects in the U.S. serve 41 states, maintain 12,000 miles of channels, carry 15% of U.S. freight carried by inland waterways, operate 275 locks, and maintain 926 harbors.
  • Recreation: Dams provide prime recreational facilities throughout the U.S. Ten percent of the U.S. population visits at least one U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility each year.

As populations have grown and moved to arid or flood-prone locations, the need for dams has increased. Millions of people throughout the United States depend on dams to bring them the benefits mentioned above.

Water is one of our most precious resources; our lives depend on it. Throughout the history of humankind, people have built dams to maximize use of this vital resource.

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