Globally, thousands of large dams are clogged with sediment and may lose more than a quarter of their storage capacity by 2050, according to UN researchers.
By 2050, nearly 50,000 large dams could lose more than a quarter of their storage capacity due to sedimentation build-up, affecting global water and energy security.
According to the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health dam capacity is expected to decline from 6 trillion cubic meters to 4.655 trillion cubic meters by 2050, requiring immediate action.
The disruption of natural water flows causes silt to accumulate in reservoirs.
Hydroelectric turbines can be damaged, and power generation can be cut off as a result.
As sediment flows are slowed along a river, upstream regions can be more prone to flooding and downstream habitats can be eroded.
Based on data from 50,000 dams in 150 countries, 16 percent of the original capacity has already been lost, according to the UN study.
If build-up rates continue at the same pace, that percentage will reach 26 percent by the middle of the century.
By 2050, the United States will lose 34 percent of its economy, Brazil 23 percent, India 26 percent, and China 20 percent.
One of the study authors, Vladimir Smakhtin, director of the Institute for Water, Environment and Health at UN University, said dam building had already declined significantly, with 50 dams built per year now compared to 1,000 in the middle of the last century.
Considering that dams are being phased out, we should be asking what alternatives there are to dams, including for generating power.
Global warming’s role
The vast majority of the world’s 60,000 big dams – built between 1930 and 1970 – were designed to last 50 to 100 years.
Dams and reservoirs classified as large are those that are higher than 15 meters (49 feet), or at least five meters high, and hold back at least three million cubic meters of water.
Risks associated with global warming have yet to be fully measured.
Smakhtin said in a press release that Climate change extremes like floods and droughts will increase, and high-intensity showers will cause more erosion.
As a result, there is an increased risk of reservoirs overflowing and sediment building up, affecting dam safety, reducing water storage capacity, and lowering energy production in hydroelectric dams.
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