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They can also enable countries to become more self-reliant rather than relying on international sources of energy. In these five ways, dams may prove very beneficial to countries utilizing them.
Many cities that build dams take advantage of damns as a resource for tourism and revenues. Because dams often pose a majestic view, and provide the opportunity for recreation in the form of boating and camping, many cities use them as a secondary source of revenue. In this sense dams are positive because they attract commerce in cities that need additional capital or revenues. However, along with these advantages come some disadvantages or problems, discussed below.
As with anything dams also have many disadvantages. For every five advantages dams provide, five disadvantages may be defined. For example, Qing & Sullivan (1999) note that while dams can stimulate economic growth and provide greater energy and power for a city, they can also result in economic devastation and loss of power, in the event a dam collapses (p. 53). Tourism and recreation are often benefits of having a damn, but can pose problems when tourists behave dangerously (as in leaning too far over a damn and falling into the river). While such accidents seem like tales told in a story, they are actual hazards associated with the creation and use of damns.
The collapse of a dam, while not often probable, is a real threat. Because of this dams require constant monitoring which can take a further toll on economic resources. Damns also redirect water, which may enable certain populations to benefit, including residents living near the dam, but may also harm the natural landscape and plant or marine life residing in the region a dam is created (Qing & Sullivan, 1999). While a dam may prevent flooding most of the time, it may result in the mass destruction of an entire residential area should the dam expire.
While dams provide an energy source (water) that will produce less pollution than traditional sources (including coal), the increase in electrical "generation capacity" may result in an over consumption of energy and environmental resources (Qing & Sullivan, 53). Dams may negatively impact the marine life and fish population that would normally live within a river basin, a fourth reason many opponents to dams exist (Qing & Sullivan, 1999). Qing & Sullivan (1999) are among many researchers who also note other problems associated with creating large dams, including the risk for the growth of limestone within the damn, contamination of the water, leakage in the damn requiring frequent repair and problems related to caring for these issues (like maintenance).
When considering the utility of dams, one must acknowledge the advantages and the disadvantages of dams. Dams are neither good nor bad, but rather neutral. As a manmade structure, they may help control the flow of a raging river, and enable a city to retain or store water for consumption and environmental use. Dams present an opportunity for recreation and for hydropower. Damns may also enable better flood control and prevention in areas where rivers frequently overflow. Naturally, with these benefits also typically come population bursts and economic growth. Tourists may come to visit dams bringing in revenues to help promote expansion.
These benefits are countered by the potential problems associated with dams. The primary area for concern related to the creation of dams is the potential for a catastrophic event, as in a natural earthquake or poor construction, leading to the collapse of a dam. The collapse of a dam can result in the destruction of residential areas and the loss of life. It can result in economic misfortune.
Dams are susceptible to wear and tear, and often leak. There are also problems associated with the environment. The creation of dams disrupts the natural flow of a river and reduces the land and resources available for wild life. Dams require much in the way of maintenance, and the waters of damns must be tested religiously to ensure the safety of the water especially when used for recreation.
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Qing, D. & Sullivan, L.R. (1999). The Three Gorges Dam and China's Energy Dilemma.
Journal of International Affairs, 53(1): 53.
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