12 of the World’s Most Fascinating Dams

There are many jaw-dropping structural feats around the world that have their own interesting engineering designs. But the one type of structure that would always leave me in great awe are dams. Their sheer dimension and immense capacity have this humbling effect on anyone that would come across this structure. It’s literally like standing in front of a calm, reassuring giant staring at you in all its glory. And it goes without saying, dams are one of the most intricately designed structures in the world. Here, you will discover some of the largest and groundbreaking dams around the globe, which have become producers of sustainable energy.

Contra Dam (Switzerland)

First on my list of fascinating dams would have to be the Contra Dam or most commonly known as the Verzasca Dam in Ticino, Switzerland. It is perhaps most famous for its 1995 epic appearance in the opening scene of the James Bond movie GoldenEye.

Contra Dam is a slender concrete arch dam standing at a height of 220 m with a crest length of 380 m. Because of the dam’s slender design, the volume of concrete required to construct it was reduced and consequently cutting down the cost of the infrastructure. The dam’s base is 28 m in width and gradually tapers up to 7 m at the crest. Two spillways were incorporated at each side of the structure, which has a maximum discharge capacity of 1,300 cubic meters per second. Contra Dam also produces power through its 105 MW power station with 3×35 MW Francis turbines that generates an average of 234 GWh per year.

Lago di Vogorno is a reservoir that was created and now impounded by the dam when it was constructed between 1961-1965. This reservoir has a maximum capacity of 105,000,000 cubic meters of water and a surface area of 400 acres.

Lago di Vogorno reservoir behind the Contra dam

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Gordon Dam (Australia)

Located in the southwest Tasmania in Australia, Gordon Dam is a double curvature concrete arch dam. One of the dam’s amazing feature is that it’s curved both in the vertical and horizontal directions to resist large hydraulic pressures coming from the 12,359,040 megaliters of water in Lake Gordon, the largest lake in Australia. The immense volume of water is diverted 183 m to the underground power station, where three hydro turbines can generate up to 432 MW of power. Approximately 13% of Tasmania’s electricity demand is provided by the Gordon Power Station.

Out of the 48 arch dams that has been built in Australia, Gordon Dam is one of the only nine that is designed to be a doubly curving dam.

Gordon dam and Lake Gordon in Tasmania, Australia

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Monticello Dam (USA)

This 93 m concrete arch dam in California, USA is one of the coolest dams in the world because of its mesmerizing spillway called the Glory Hole. The spillway is an uncontrolled morning glory type with a lip diameter of 22 m and sits within the perimeters of Lake Berryessa, the seventh largest man-made lake in California. It can drain 48,400 cubic feet per second of water during the lake’s peak level that occurs when the lake rises to 4.7 m above the spillway’s lip. The exit end of the spillway is also famous as a full pipe for skateboarders.

Monticello dam impounds the Putah Creek that can generate 56,806,000 kWh of power annually using 2×5 MW and 1×1.5 MW turbines.

Hoover Dam (USA)

Hoover Dam is one of the most iconic dams around the world stretching between the American states of Nevada and Arizona. Originally called the Boulder dam, this colossal structure stands at a height of 221.4 m, with a base width of 200 m and a crest width of 14 m. It’s a concrete gravity-arch dam that was constructed with the purpose to control flood, provide irrigation water, produce hydroelectric power, store water, and for recreation. The hydropower station houses various types of turbines like a 1×61.5 MW Francis turbine and 2×2.4 MW Pelton turbine, which produce an annual electrical output of 4.2 TWh.

One of the biggest preparations done for the construction of Hoover Dam was the diversion of the Colorado river away from the site. To make this happen, four diversion tunnels were bored through the canyon walls – two on the Nevada side and two on the Arizona side. On the 1st of February, 1935, a few years after the Colorado river was diverted, a steel gate was lowered down to allow the water to take its natural course again. That was the first time in history when the Colorado river was under the control of man. The dam impounds the Colorado river which consequently forms Lake Mead, the largest reservoir by volume (when full) in the United States.

Panoramic view of Hoover dam

[Image Source: Bureau of Reclamation via Flickr]

Three Gorges Dam (China)

Known as the world’s largest hydropower dam, the Three Gorges dam stretches out 2.3 km to span and impounds the Yangtze river in the Hubei province in China. Capable of producing 87 TWh of electricity per annum, this hydropower dam uses 32×700 MW and 2×50 MW of Francis turbines. Its structural profile is designed with a large base width of 115 m and tapers to 40 m at the crest. Intended not only to produce electricity, the three Gorges Dam was also constructed to increase the shipping capacity of the Yangtze river and mitigate the chances of flooding downstream by providing large water storage space.

The most mind blowing fact about this dam is that it’s capable of slowing the Earth’s rotation by shifting immense volume of water.

Tarbela Dam (Pakistan)

Considered as the largest earth-filled dam in the world, the Tarbela Dam in Pakistan impounds the Indus river to serve as irrigation supply, flood control, and to produce hydroelectric power. In order to properly divert the Indus river, the dam’s construction had to be done in three stages where large tunnels had to be constructed to act as diversion channels. The dam’s main wall was built with earth and rock fill that spans for 2,743.2 m from the island to the right-hand side of the river. Two concrete auxiliary dams span the river from the island to the left hand-side.

Equipped with 10×175 MW and 4×432 MW of turbines, Tarbela Dam is capable of producing 14.959 billion kWh of electricity per annum.

Tarbela dam releasing a large volume of water

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Almendra Dam (Spain)

One of Spain’s tallest structures, the Almendra Dam, literally translates to almond, is located in the country’s province of Salamanca. Impounding the Tormes river, this concrete gravity arch dam is part of the hydroelectric system known as the Duero Drops. The Duero Drops system is composed of five dams from Spain and three other dams nearby Portugal. The spillway seen from the photo below can disperse water at a rate of 3,039 cubic meters per second.

Almendra dam in Salamanca, Spain dispersing water

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Itaipu Dam (Brazil)

This fascinating hydroelectric dam stretches 7, 919 m from Brazil to Paraguay impounding the Parana river. It beats the Three Gorges Dam in terms of power output at an average of 89.5 TWh per annum by using 20×700 MW Francis turbines. Ten of the turbines generate power for Paraguay, while the other ten brings power to Brazil. Itaipu dam is, in fact, a series of four dams: a concrete wing dam, a main concrete dam, a rock-fill dam, and an earth-fill dam.

Impressively, the immense volume of concrete used in constructing the dam was properly cured using large refrigeration units equivalent to 50,000 deep freezers. Another mind blowing fact about this dam is that the Guaira Falls, once known as the world’s most amazing water feature, was submerged under water when the Itaipu reservoir was filled. The Guaira Falls stood twice the height of Niagara falls and surged twice as much water.

Atatürk Dam (Turkey)

Located on the Euphrates river, the Atatürk Dam is the largest in Turkey and ranks sixth from the largest earth-and-rock filled embankment dams in the world. It is the centerpiece of the 22 dams that exist on the Euphrates and the Tigris, which comprise the integrated sectors of the Southeastern Anatolia Project, or GAP in Turkish (Güney Doğu Anadolu Projesi). The Atatürk reservoir has a capacity of 48.7 cubic kilometers of water and equipped with 8×300 MW Francis turbines, which generate 8,900 GWh of electrical power per annum. The construction of the dam wiped out many important historical sites like the birthplace of the Ancient Greek poet Lucian.

Panoramic view of Ataturk dam in Turkey

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Kariba Dam (Zimbabwe)

One of the largest in Africa, the Kariba Dam supplies 1,626 MW of power to the Copperbelt parts of both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Impounding the Zambezi river, Kariba dam is outfitted with 10 types of Francis turbines capable of outputting an average of 6,400 GWh of electrical power per year. The dam was designed as a double curvature concrete arch dam to effectively resist the 180 cubic kilometers of water pressing against it.

Because of the immense volume of water from the created Kariba reservoir, over 6,000 animals had to be rescued by Operation Noah as the Kariba Gorge was flooded.

Kariba dam in Africa splurging water out

[Image Source: Marcus Wishart/World Bank Group]

Kerr Dam (USA)

Designed for producing hydroelectricity, the Kerr Dam also serves as wildlife resources, forest conservation, and public recreational uses. By impounding the Flathead river, the dam is capable of producing 426 GWh of electricity per annum. It is one of the two PPL Montana dams located west of the Continental Divide where the Flathead river cascadingly empties into the Clark Fork river, which subsequently empties into the Columbia river. Finally, the Columbia river empties right into the Pacific ocean.

Dispersing of water at Kerr dam

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Gariep Dam (South Africa)

The Gariep Dam was designed to be a hybrid gravity-arch dam as the gorge is too wide for a full arch. Gravity abutments are formed using flank walls then the design gradually arches at the center of the dam. It impounds the Orange river and creates the Gariep reservoir with a maximum capacity of 5,340,00 megaliters. 899 GWh of electrical power is produced by the dam annually using 4×90 MW turbines. The Gariep Dam bridge is also visible from the photo below, where the Orange and Caledon rivers flow through as well the Brakspruit, Broekspruit, Oudagspruit, and Slykspruit streams.

Water splurging out of Gariep dam

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

There are many other dams around the world with their unique and fascinating engineering designs. So, if we’ve missed them then feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

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