Dam Solutions - Alternatives & mitigation

What are the alternatives to large dams?

A dam will be more acceptable to stakeholders if it can be shown that it really is needed and that all options have been explored.
There are many different alternatives to large dams, depending on the need at hand, be it:


But whether a dam has long been built or is being constructed, there are plenty of ways to mitigate its environmental and social impacts.

Restoring environmental flows, such as is happening in the Kafue Flats in Zambia, can be beneficial to freshwater ecosystems and the people who depend on them for their livelihoods.

Where this is not possible, compensatory measures for ecosystem restoration can be considered. For example, by managing suitable, nearby land for nature conservation.

New dams and old dams

For new dams, mitigation measures are now often part of the planning process and are incorporated in the project costs from the beginning.

But in the case of existing dams, the question of who will pay for repairing the damage (PDF: 1.60 MB) is not an easy one to solve.

With the growing number of old dams in the world, owners and regulators have to think harder about options to deal with them, including:
  • changing operations
  • rehabilitation
  • retro-fitting
  • removal.
The best way to identify the need for change at a dam is through a compulsory relicensing system, in which all dams are assessed regularly to determine whether they are still in the best interest of society.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Before construction of a dam ever begins, all options should be explored.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Sarah Black
In Zambia, WWF is working with partners to release environmental flows from Itezhi tezhi dam to benefit both wildlife and cattle farmers in the Kafue flats wetlands.
© WWF-Canon / Sarah Black
 / ©: Jamie  PITTOCK / WWF-Canon
The Gold Hill Dam on the Rogue River was removed in 2008, because it no longer served its purpose of power generation and water supply. Oregon, USA.
© Jamie PITTOCK / WWF-Canon

WWF calls on governments to reduce dam impacts by:

    • developing effective legislation requiring mitigation at existing dams
    • providing more funding for mitigation
    • linking mitigation at existing dams to approval for new projects.

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