Hydraulic Design of Dams: Some Basic Principles and Planning Guide

14 December 2018

While nature’s engineer, the humble beaver, shapes his own waterways, man has learned to construct artificial dams. It’s a fiercely amazing capacity we wield, one that needs to be used responsibly. Otherwise, we run the risk of causing permanent damage to our waterways and countryside. Again, working to construct a feasible hydraulic design is a weighty burden.

The Basics of Dam Design

Does the topography of a stated region support dam placement? Are there other services to add? Hydroelectric power is one option, so there would be a need for a turbine/generator structure. At night, as a city slept below the dam, the generators would turn into motors and pump water back to the top. Elsewhere, a team of engineers is calculating the hydraulic loads. They’re assessing currents and generating hydrologic data. They’ll use this information to create a massive barrier. Reinforced concrete, curvature mapping and more, the construct slowly comes together.

Assessing Design Options

Of course, curved concrete walls are used in the heaviest construction projects, but this solution doesn’t suit every situation. No, there are compacted embankments to excavate and erect. Mining tailings and river rick-rack further bolster waterway edges and channel meandering currents. Next, is the construct an overflow dam? We’ve all seen this design in the movies. They contain huge volumes of water, plus they also discharge water as a series of small waterfalls. Overflow dams use spillways and special levee controlling systems to reduce excessive hydrologic loads.

Protecting the Environment

Dams may look fairly plain, but they’re loaded with interesting features. On the one hand, they can generate clean electricity and manage excessive volumes of water. On the other, that water gives life to the land below. The stream is regulated as it leaves the structure and meanders its way through the lush countryside. Irrigation systems crop up, and an oasis of sorts takes form. Meanwhile, all existing water life is protected by the hydraulic design plans, as are the plants and animal life that could be threatened by a dam’s presence. After all, waterway obstructions raise the water line, and that rise could seriously impact life in and around a large tract of land.

There are passes and fences to build for local wildlife. Having protected the environment, there’s still so much to be done. There are levees and walls to build, embankments to strengthen and rick-rack perimeters to lay, and then there’s the type of dam to construct. What will it be? Overflow mechanisms, footpaths, concrete elasticity and wall curvature, the options multiply by the second, and the contractors are confounded. Coordinating all resources and adding engineering savvy to the project, consulting engineers arrive onsite to take charge.

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