Dam Solutions - Flood Management

Dams for flood control disrupt the natural flow

Many dams have a function for flood management, but in some cases dams actually make floods worse!
Multipurpose dams, by their very nature, serve contradictory purposes. Dam owners want them to be kept full in order to generate electricity and improve navigation. Residents of lowland areas want them kept largely empty so they can retain floods.

Often, safety concerns and flood control lose out to the direct economic interest of keeping a dam full. And this is just one of the problems with dams for flood prevention.

There are almost always alternatives to dam construction for flood control

Strategies have shifted from a focus on structural responses to more non-structural solutions as part of an integrated flood management approach.

The scale of floods can be reduced by protecting floodplains and wetlands

Floodplains and wetlands, the broad flat areas near rivers and lakes, act like natural sponges. They allow large volumes of water to be stored and slowly and safely released down rivers and into the groundwater. But they are often drained and cut off to make room for agriculture and development.

The economic value of wetlands' flood control services should not be underestimated. According to a WWF study, the median economic value of the flood control provided by a medium-sized wetland is about US$464 per ha per year.

Managing floodplain development and land use decreases flood risks

Integrated river basin management (IRBM) is the process of coordinating the conservation, management, development, and use of water, land, and related resources within a river basin. It is the most appropriate way to promote sustainable use of freshwater resources and a valuable tool for preventing disastrous floods.

Increasing people’s coping capacity with emergency planning, warnings, evacuation, compensation, and insurance helps them avoid disaster

Flooding is a natural part of a river's cycle. Floods only become catastrophic when people are ill prepared and property is poorly planned and designed. By improving how people deal with floods, it's possible to reap the economic benefits of living by the water and minimize the risks.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Fred F. HAZELHOFF
Marshlands along the Briebrza River are natural flood absorbers.
© WWF-Canon / Fred F. HAZELHOFF

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