Aquatic Sciences

, 82:2 | Cite as

Exit here: strategies for dealing with aging dams and reservoirs

  • Henry H. HansenEmail author
  • Emily Forzono
  • Alisha Grams
  • Lindsay Ohlman
  • Christine Ruskamp
  • Mark A. Pegg
  • Kevin L. Pope


Aging infrastructure is prevalent throughout the world, but water control management structures, specifically dams, are of growing concern. Dams and their corresponding reservoirs have inherent, but separate, lifespans. The proportion of dams around the world that continue operation beyond their intended lifespans is growing at an alarming rate. Society will not only have to navigate the tradeoffs associated with the deterioration of services provided by reservoirs and dams, but also impending structural failures. Society is nearing a critical pinch point where we will have to decide how to deal with dams and reservoirs at scales that range from a single system to multiple systems in large watersheds. No comprehensive strategy exists to inform both the range of actions that can be applied to such infrastructure and how such actions would influence biophysical, socioeconomic, and geopolitical tradeoffs. The development of proactive exit strategies is a critical first step in ensuring controlled transitions for aging dams and reservoirs. Herein, we present an overview of actions and considerations for aging dams and reservoirs, followed by an initial framework for exit strategy development to launch a further discussion on how society could deal with this aging infrastructure.


Dams Reservoirs Rivers Aging Exit strategy Conceptual framework 



The ideas presented herein were developed during a graduate-level course entitled “Managed Aquatic Systems” that was taught during spring 2017. We thank Dr. Steve Miranda and two reviewers for critical and insightful comments that substantially improved the manuscript. MAP is supported by Hatch funds through the Agricultural Research Division at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is jointly supported by a cooperative agreement among the U.S. Geological Survey, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the University of Nebraska, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wildlife Management Institute.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey-Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biology and Ecology of FishesLeibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB)BerlinGermany

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