Reservoirs Essay

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Reservoirs are artif icial lakes that are created by building a dam with advanced construction technologies. The construction of such dams and reservoirs usually have four key objectives: flood protection and control, secure navigation, providing water for irrigation and for urban population, and generating electric power.

Major infrastructure projects such as building reservoirs and related structures are often supported in dictatorships, especially in communist regimes. As a result of accelerated industrialization and energy inefficiency, such economies seek new power sources. Arguments regarding the creation of reservoirs cover cultural, political, and environmental issues. General concerns are that such reservoirs interfere with nature and the enormous costs are a burden to the economy. Specific issues may arise concerning ground water, natural environment, agriculture, and fisheries in the area. Hydrologists are concerned with long-term impacts on habitat, water levels, water pollution, drinking water, and water tables. However, the supporters of the reservoirs emphasize the future benefits of the control of floods, secured river navigation, cheap and renewable energy, water intake for irrigation and for drinking water, and a possibility for holiday resort upon the water surface.

Some dams and reservoirs have generated a great deal of controversy, such as those along the Colorado River. There the Glen Canyon, Hoover Dam, Parker Dam, Davis Dam, Palo Verde Diversion Dam, and Imperial Dam projects provide life-sustaining water for irrigation, drinking, and other uses for communities in the arid American southwest. One of the largest reservoirs is Lake Powell. This controversial project was created by the Glen Canyon Dam. The area of the lake and around it became the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a now popular summer destination. Lake Powell is arguably the most scenic lake in America, situated in some of Southern Utah’s most beautiful desert country.

Lake Nasser in Egypt is one of the largest and most controversial artificial lakes in the world. The reservoir was created by two dams straddling the river. The objectives were to prevent the river’s flooding, generate electricity, and provide water for agriculture. The idea of the reservoir emerged in the 19th century and the British completed the construction in 1902. To create more adequate protection against floods planning for a new dam began in 1952. During the construction significant amounts of nonrefundable loans, design, engineers, and machinery were provided by the Soviet Union.

Along with the construction, an international debate arose concerning the negative effects of the project. Over 90,000 people were displaced, Lake Nasser flooded valuable archeological sites, and the silt that made the Nile floodplain fertile was held behind the dam. Silt deposited in the reservoir is lowering the water storage capacity of Lake Nasser, poor irrigation practices are waterlogging soils, and there is resulting salinization. Mediterranean fishing declined after the dam was finished because nutrients that used to flow down the Nile to the Mediterranean were trapped behind the dam. The need to use artificial fertilizers is causing further pollution. Indifferent irrigation control has also caused some farmland to be damaged by waterlogging and salinity, a problem complicated by the reduced flow of the river, which allows salt water further into the delta. The eastern basin of the Mediterranean is low in fertility because the marine ecosystem depended on the rich flow of phosphate and silicates from the Nile.

One of the many communist reservoir-dam projects was the infamous Gabcikovo-Nagymaros complex. The idea was taken up in 1952 by the Czechoslovakian and Hungarian governments, and an agreement was signed in 1977. However, in the early 1980s, significant opposition began to grow in Hungary. Engineers, environmentalists, and politicians brought forth complex and scientific arguments. By the end of the 1980s, groups opposing the dam and reservoir had become significant citizen movements. One of them, the Danube Circle, organized a scientific conference along with the World Wildlife Foundation and called for a mass demonstration where about 30,000 people participated in front of the parliament. At the same time, a campaign to collect signatures intensified, and over 140,000 signatures were presented to the parliament at the end of February 1989. Eastern Europe has never seen larger environmental protests before or since.


  1. John Fitzmaurice, Damming the Danube: Gabcikovo and the Post-Communist Politics in Europe (Westview, 1998);
  2. Sanjeev Khagram, Dams and Development: Transnational Struggles for Water and Power (Cornell University Press, 2004);
  3. Patrick McCully, Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams (Zed Books, 2001).

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