Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Have Large Dams Altered Extreme Precipitation Patterns?



Dams and their impounded waters are among the most common civil infrastructures, with a long heritage of modern design and operations experience. In particular, large dams, defined by the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) as having a height greater than 15 meters from the foundation and holding a reservoir volume of more than 3 million cubic meters, have the potential to vastly transform local climate, landscapes, regional economics, and urbanization patterns.

In the United States alone, about 75,000 dams are capable of storing a volume of water equaling almost 1 year's mean runoff of the nation [Graf, 1999]. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) reports that at least 45,000 large dams have been built worldwide since the 1930s. These sheer numbers raise the question of the extent to which large dams and their impounded waters alter patterns that would have been pervasive had the dams not been built.