PUBLISHED: 26 February 2015

Lifecycle of a Dam and Reservoir

Designing and building a dam and reservoir is a feat of engineering. A great deal of effort is required to design, construct, operate and maintain a dam and reservoir, and eventually (if required) remove the structure.

Before a dam is built, the following questions must be answered: 

  • What is the purpose of the dam?
  • Where will the dam be located?
  • What kind of dam and reservoir design is suitable?


“Run-of-the-river” is a term that refers to hydroelectric plants that generate electricity using the natural flow of the river water. Run-of-the-river plants have very small reservoirs behind them, or no reservoirs at all.  

Purpose of the Dam

Dams can be used for any of the following purposes:

  • Water storage 
  • Hydroelectric generation
  • Recreation
  • Flood protection
  • Waste containment

Before a dam can be constructed, its primary purpose must be identified. 

Location of the Dam

When determining the location of a reservoir and dam, two factors must be taken into account. First, areas of the landscape where there are low depressions are the ideal location for reservoirs. Second , a dam and reservoir should cause as little disturbance as possible to landowners and the environment. Sometimes an ideal geographical spot may not be the best spot to build if there is significant impact on people and the environment. 

If the area where a dam will be built is inhabited or includes any structures, property may need to be purchased or expropriated.