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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Allen CR, Fontaine JJ, Pope KL, Garmestani AS (2011) Adaptive management for a turbulent future. J Environ Manag Adapt Manag Nat Resour 92:1339–1345. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.11.019
American Society of Civil Engineers Task Committee (1997) Guidelines for retirement of dams and hydroelectric facilities. ASCE, New York
Arthington AH, Bunn SE, Poff NL, Naiman RJ (2006) The challenge of providing environmental flow rules to sustain river ecosystems. Ecol Appl 16:1311–1318
Association of State Dam Safety Officials (2019) Dam failures and incidents https://damsafety.org/dam-failures Accessed 13 Feb 2019.
Bea RG (2017) Preliminary Root Causes Analysis of Failures of the Oroville Dam Gated Spillway. University of California Berkeley, Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, Berkeley
Bednarek A (2001) Undamming rivers: a review of the ecological impacts of dam removal. Environ Manag 27(6):803–814. https://doi.org/10.1007/s002670010189
Bellmore JR, Duda JJ, Craig LS, Greene SL, Torgersen CE, Collins MJ, Vittum K (2017) Status and trends of dam removal research in the United States: Status and trends of dam removal research in the US. Wiley Interdiscip Rev 4:e1164. https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1164
Billington DP, Jackson DC, Melosi MV (2005) The history of large federal dams: planning, design, and construction in the era of big dams. Government Printing Office, Washington
Binder D (2001) Emergency action plans: a legal and practical blueprint failing to plan is planning to fail symposium: post-september 11 legal topics. U Pitt L Rev 63:791–814
Biswas AK, Tortajada C (2001) Development and large dams: a global perspective. Int J Water Resour Dev 17(1):9–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/07900620120025024
Born SM, Genskow KD, Filbert TL, Hernandez-Mora N, Keefer ML, White KA (1998) Socioeconomic and institutional dimensions of dam removals: the wisconsin experience. Environ Manage 22:359–370. https://doi.org/10.1007/s002679900111
Bowles DS, Anderson LR, Glover TF, Chauhan SS (1999) Understanding and managing the risks of aging dams: Principles and case studies, in: the nineteenth US Cold Annual Meeting and Lecture, Atlanta, GA.
Bowman MB (2002) Legal perspectives on dam removalthis article outlines the legal issues associated with dam removal and examines how environmental restoration activities such as dam removal fit into the existing US legal system. Bioscience 52:739–747
Brownjohn J (2007) Structural health monitoring of civil infrastructure. Philos Trans R Soc A 365:589–622. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2006.1925
Bunn SE, Arthington AH (2002) Basic principles and ecological consequences of altered flow regimes for aquatic biodiversity. Environ Manag 30:492–507. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-002-2737-0
Cagle RF (2003) Infrastructure asset management: an emerging direction. AACE international transactions, PM21
California Department of Water Resources (2018) Oroville Spillways Construction and Cost Estimate Update https://water.ca.gov/News/News-Releases/2018/Sept-18/Oroville-Spillways-Construction-and-Cost-Estimate-Update Accessed 13 Feb 2019.
Choi JH, Yoon TH, Kim JS, Moon YI (2018) Dam rehabilitation assessment using the delphi-AHP method for adapting to climate change. J Water Resour Plann Manag 144:06017007. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)WR.1943-5452.0000877
Chunlong L, Lise C, Olden JD (2017) Heads you win, tails you lose: life-history traits predict invasion and extinction risk of the world’s freshwater fishes. Aquat Conserv 27:773–779. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.2740
Datta PS, Tyagi SK (1996) Major ion chemistry of groundwater in Delhi area: chemical weathering processes and groundwater flow regime. J Geol Soc India 47:179–188
Diloreto G, Curtis S, Bennett J, Camp J, Hann S, Herrmann A, Hookham C, Kito S, Lynch O, Matteo A, McKeehan B, Merfeld P, Montgomery Mills S, Morris M, Movassaghi K, Murphy J, Neumann K, Nikolic A, Ogden M, Perrings D, Peskin R, Pierce L, Quinn C, Shelton R, Schipper M, Stahlman W, Talocco N, Tilchin M (2017) Infrastructure report card. American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston
Dolen T (2005) Materials properties model of aging concrete (No. DSO-05-05), reclamation managing water in the west. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Washington
Doyle MW, Stanley EH, Orr CH, Selle AR, Sethi SA, Harbor JM (2005) Stream ecosystem response to small dam removal: lessons from the Heartland. Geomorphology 71:227–244. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2004.04.011
Doyle MW, Stanley EH, Havlick DG, Kaiser MJ, Steinbach G, Graf WL, Galloway GE, Riggsbee JA (2008) Environmental science: aging infrastructure and ecosystem restoration. Science 319:286–287. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1149852
Evans JE, Mackey SD, Gottgens JF, Gill WM (2000) Lessons from a dam failure. Ohio J Sci 100:11
Federal Emergency Management Association (2007) Emergency action planning for state regulated high-hazard potential dams. U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Federal Emergency Management Agency (2012) Summary of existing guidelines for hydrologic safety of dams. U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Federal Emergency Management Agency (2013) Federal guidelines for dam safety emergency action planning for dams. U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Fluixá-Sanmartín J, Altarejos-García L, Morales-Torres A, Escuder-Bueno I (2018) Review article: climate change impacts on dam safety. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 18:2471–2488. https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-18-2471-2018
Foster M, Fell R, Spannagle M (2000) The statistics of embankment dam failures and accidents. Can Geotech J 37:1000–1024. https://doi.org/10.1139/t00-030
France J, Alvi I, Dickson P, Falvey H, Rigbey S, Trojanowski J (2018) Independent forensic team report Oroville dam spillway incident
Füssel H-M (2007) Vulnerability: a generally applicable conceptual framework for climate change research. Glob Environ Change 17:155–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2006.05.002
Gagnon L, Klimpt J-É, Seelos K (2002) Comparing recommendations from the World Commission on Dams and the IEA initiative on hydropower. Energy Policy 30:1299–1304. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0301-4215(02)00093-9
Garandeau R, Edwards S, Maslin M (2014) Biophysical, socioeconomic and geopolitical impacts assessments of large dams: an overview. University College London, London
Goteti G, Stachelek J (2016) Dams in the United States from the National Inventory of Dams (NID). R package version 0.2. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=dams
Grabowski ZJ, Chang H, Granek EF (2018) Fracturing dams, fractured data: empirical trends and characteristics of existing and removed dams in the United States. River Res Appl 34:526–537. https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.3283
Graf WL (1999) Dam nation: a geographic census of American dams and their large-scale hydrologic impacts. Water Resour Res 35:1305–1311. https://doi.org/10.1029/1999WR900016
Grant G (2001) Dam removal: panacea or Pandora for rivers? Hydrol Process 15:1531–1532
Heinz Center (2002) Dam removal: science and decision making. H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, Washington, DC
Halfawy M (2008) Integration of municipal infrastructure asset management processes: challenges and solutions. J Comput Civil Eng 22:216–229. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0887-3801(2008)22:3(216)
Ho M, Lall U, Allaire M, Devineni N, Kwon HH, Pal I, Raff D, Wegner D (2017) The future role of dams in the United States of America. Water Resour Res 53:982–998. https://doi.org/10.1002/2016WR019905
Hoenke KM, Kumar M, Batt L (2014) A GIS based approach for prioritizing dams for potential removal. Ecol Eng 64:27–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2013.12.009
Hollins L, Eisenberg D, Seager T (2018) Risk and resilience at the Oroville dam. Infrastructures 3(4):49
Johnson SE, Graber BE (2002) Enlisting the social sciences in decisions about dam removal. Bioscience. https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2002)052%5b0731:ETSSID%5d2.0.CO;2
Johnson PT, Olden JD, Vander Zanden MJ (2008) Dam invaders: impoundments facilitate biological invasions into freshwaters. Front Ecol Environ 6:357–363
Jorgensen D, Renofalt BM (2013) Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t: debates on dam removal in the Swedish media. Ecol Soc 18:18. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-05364-180118
Juracek KE (2015) The aging of america’s reservoirs: in-reservoir and downstream physical changes and habitat implications. J Am Water Resour Assoc 51:168–184. https://doi.org/10.1111/jawr.12238
Kimmel BL, Groeger AW (1983) Limnological and ecological changes associated with reservoir aging (No. CONF-8306160-1). Oak Ridge National Lab, Oak Ridge
Kondolf GM (1997) PROFILE: hungry water: effects of dams and gravel mining on river channels. Environ Manag 21:533–551
Kondolf GM, Gao Y, Annandale GW, Morris GL, Jiang E, Zhang J, Cao Y, Carling P, Fu K, Guo Q, Hotchkiss R, Peteuil C, Sumi T, Wang H-W, Wang Z, Wei Z, Wu B, Wu C, Yang CT (2014) Sustainable sediment management in reservoirs and regulated rivers: experiences from five continents. Earth’s Future 2:256–280. https://doi.org/10.1002/2013EF000184
Lewis LY, Bohlen C, Wilson S (2008) Dams, dam removal, and river restoration: a hedonic property value analysis. Contemp Econ Policy 26:175–186. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1465-7287.2008.00100.x
Lin TM, Pathranarakul P (2006) An integrated approach to natural disaster management: public project management and its critical success factors. Disaster Prev Manag 15:396–413. https://doi.org/10.1108/09653560610669882
Martin TE, Davies MP (2000) Trends in the stewardship of tailings dams. Tailings and Waste
McKay SK, Cooper AR, Diebel MW, Elkins D, Oldford G, Roghair C, Wieferich D (2017) Informing watershed connectivity barrier prioritization decisions: a synthesis. River Res Appl 33:847–862. https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.3021
McManamay RA, Oigbokie CO, Kao S-C, Bevelhimer MS (2016) Classification of US hydropower dams by their modes of operation. River Res Appl 32:1450–1468. https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.3004
Miranda LE (2017) Reservoir fish habitat management. Lightning Press, Totowa
Miranda LE, Krogman RM (2015) Functional age as an indicator of reservoir senescence. Fisheries 40:170–176. https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2015.1007207
National Performance of Dams Program (2017) Dam failure loss-of-life consequences http://npdp.stanford.edu/consequences_fatalities Accessed 13 Feb 2019.
Nüsser M (2003) Political ecology of large dams: a critical review. Petermanns Geogr Mitt 147:20–27
Nutley S, Walter I, Davies HTO (2003) From knowing to doing: a framework for understanding the evidence-into-practice agenda. Evaluation 9:125–148. https://doi.org/10.1177/1356389003009002002
Palmer MA, Liermann CAR, Nilsson C, Flörke M, Alcamo J, Lake PS, Bond N (2008) Climate change and the world’s river basins: anticipating management options. Front Ecol Environ 6:81–89
Palmieri A, Shah F, Dinar A (2001) Economics of reservoir sedimentation and sustainable management of dams. J Environ Manag 61:149–163. https://doi.org/10.1006/jema.2000.0392
Pegg MA, Pope KL, Powell LA, Turek KC, Spurgeon JJ, Stewart NT, Hogberg NP, Porath MT (2015) Reservoir rehabilitations: seeking the fountain of youth. Fisheries 40:177–181. https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2015.1017635
Peyras L, Royet P, Boissier D (2006) Dam ageing diagnosis and risk analysis: development of methods to support expert judgment. Can Geotech J 43:169–186. https://doi.org/10.1139/T05-096
Pinter N (2005) One step forward, two steps back on U.S. Floodplains. Science 308:207–208. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1108411
Pisaniello JD, McKay J (2007) A tool to aid emergency managers and communities in appraising private dam safety and policy. Disasters 31:176–200. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7717.2007.01003.x
Pisaniello JD, Tingey-Holyoak JL (2017) Growing community developments causing ‘hazard creep’ downstream of farm dams, a simple and cost-effective tool to help land planners appraise flood safety. Saf Sci 97:58–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2016.07.020
Pittock J, Hartmann J (2011) Taking a second look: climate change, periodic relicensing and improved management of dams. Mar Freshw Res 62:312. https://doi.org/10.1071/MF09302
Poff NL, Hart DD (2002) How dams vary and why it matters for the emerging science of dam removal. Bioscience 52:659–668
Poff NL, Allan JD, Palmer MA, Hart DD, Richter BD, Arthington AH, Rogers KH, Meyer JL, Stanford JA (2003) River flows and water wars: emerging science for environmental decision making. Front Ecol Environ 1:298–306
Rahel FJ (2007) Biogeographic barriers, connectivity and homogenization of freshwater faunas: it’s a small world after all. Freshw Biol 52:696–710
Randle T, Helper T, Edwards W, Hozer W, Krivanec C (2015) Guidelines for dam decommissioning projects. United States Society on Dams, Denver
Richter B, Thomas G (2007) Restoring environmental flows by modifying dam operations. Ecol Soc. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-02014-120112
Richter BD, Warner AT, Meyer JL, Lutz K (2006) A collaborative and adaptive process for developing environmental flow recommendations. River Res Appl 22:297–318. https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.892
Schmitz D, Blank M, Ammondt S, Patten DT (2009) Using historic aerial photography and paleohydrologic techniques to assess long-term ecological response to two Montana dam removals. J Environ Manag. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2008.07.028
Schmutz S, Moog O (2018) Dams: ecological impacts and management, in: riverine ecosystem management, aquatic ecology series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73250-3_6
Shuman JR (1995) Environmental considerations for assessing dam removal alternatives for river restoration. Regul Rivers 11:249–261. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrr.3450110302
Siddiqui IH (2009) Dams and reservoirs: planning and engineering. Oxford University Press, Karachi
Sims G (1992) Dam aging. Thomas Telford Services Ltd, London
Smith C, Williams J, Nejadhashemi AP, Woznicki S, Leatherman J (2013) Cropland management versus dredging: an economic analysis of reservoir sediment management. Lake Reserv Manag 29:151–164. https://doi.org/10.1080/10402381.2013.814184
Stanley EH, Doyle MW (2003) Trading off: the ecological effects of dam removal. Front Ecol Environ 1:15–22
Stapledon D, MacGregor P, Bell G, Fell R (2005) Geotechnical engineering of dams. Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.1201/NOE0415364409
Stedinger J, Heath DC, Thompson K (1996) Risk analysis for dam safety evaluation: hydrologic risk. Defense Technical Information Center, Fort Belvoir. https://doi.org/10.21236/ADA316926
Swain RE, David B, Dean O (1998) A framework for characterization of extreme floods for dam safety risk assessments. In: Proceedings of the 1998 USCOLD annual lecture, Buffalo, New York.
Tang Z, Engel BA, Pijanowski BC, Lim KJ (2005) Forecasting land use change and its environmental impact at a watershed scale. J Environ Manage 76:35–45
Task Committee of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (2016) The cost of rehabilitating our nation’s dams: a methodology, estimate, and proposed funding mechanisms. Association of State Dam Safety Officials
Tilt B, Braun Y, He D (2009) Social impacts of large dam projects: a comparison of international case studies and implications for best practice. J Environ Manag. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2008.07.030
Tonitto C, Riha SJ (2016) Planning and implementing small dam removals: lessons learned from dam removals across the eastern United States. Sustain Water Resour Manag 2:489–507. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40899-016-0062-7
Tullos D, Foster-Moore E, Magee D, Tilt B, Wolf A, Schmitt E, Gassert F, Kibler K (2013) Biophysical, socioeconomic, and geopolitical vulnerabilities to hydropower development on the nu river, China. Ecol Soc. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-05465-180316
U.S Army Corps of Engineers (2018) National Inventory of Dams http://nid.usace.army.mil/ 13 Accessed Feb 2019)
Warner K, Pejchar L (2001) A river might run through it again: criteria for consideration of dam removal and interim lessons from California. Environ Manage 28:561–575. https://doi.org/10.1007/s002670010244
Wescoat J, Halvorson S (2000) Ex post evaluation of dams and related water projects: patterns, problems, and potential. Report to the world commission on dams. https://doi.org/10.13140/rg.2.1.1450.5840
Willems JJ, Busscher T, van den Brink M, Arts J (2018) Anticipating water infrastructure renewal: a framing perspective on organizational learning in public agencies. Environ Plann C 36:1088–1108. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654417733993
World Commission on Dams (2000) Dams and development: a new framework for decision-making. Earthscan, London
Banyard JK, Coxon RE, Johnston TA (1992) Carsington Reservoir-Reconstruction of the Dam. In: Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers Civil Engineering https://doi.org/10.1680/icien.1992.20280
Fahlbusch H (2009) Early dams. In: Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers Engineering History and Heritage. https://doi.org/10.1680/ehh2009.162.1.13
Zamarrón-Mieza I, Yepes V, Moreno-Jiménez JM (2017) A systematic review of application of multi-criteria decision analysis for aging-dam management. J Clean Prod 147:217–230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.01.092
Zarfl C, Lumsdon AE, Berlekamp J, Tydecks L, Tockner K (2015) A global boom in hydropower dam construction. Aquat Sci 77(1):161–170. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00027-014-0377-0
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.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Hansen, H.H., Forzono, E., Grams, A. et al. Exit here: strategies for dealing with aging dams and reservoirs. Aquat Sci 82, 2 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00027-019-0679-3
- Exit strategy
- Conceptual framework