Types of Dams in Civil Engineering

Dams play a crucial role in civil engineering, serving as barriers to impound water and provide various benefits like water storage, flood control, hydroelectric power generation, and irrigation. They are essential in harnessing and managing water resources. In civil engineering, there are several types of dams that are designed and constructed based on the specific requirements of the project. Each type of dam has its unique characteristics and applications. In this article, we will explore different types of dams commonly used in civil engineering.

1. Gravity Dams

Gravity dams are the most common type of dams used in civil engineering. These dams rely on their massive weight to resist the horizontal thrust exerted by the water. They are constructed using concrete or stone materials and are typically wide at the base and narrower at the top. Gravity dams are designed to withstand the hydrostatic pressure of the water and transfer it to the foundation and abutments through their own weight. Examples of gravity dams include the Hoover Dam in the United States and the Tehri Dam in India.

2. Arch Dams

Arch dams are curved structures that rely on the strength of the arch shape to carry the water load and transfer it to the abutments on either side of the valley. These dams are typically made of concrete and are well-suited for narrow canyons or gorges. Arch dams are known for their aesthetic appeal and efficiency in utilizing materials. Their shape allows them to withstand the compressive forces created by the water pressure. Examples of arch dams include the Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam, both located in the United States.

3. Buttress Dams

Buttress dams are similar to gravity dams but are supported by internal buttresses reinforced with concrete or steel. These triangular-shaped supports help distribute the water load to the foundation and increase the stability of the dam. Buttress dams are often used when there is less space available for construction or when the foundation is not strong enough to support a gravity dam. They are commonly found in mountainous regions. The Enguri Dam in Georgia is an example of a buttress dam.

4. Embankment Dams

Embankment dams, also known as earth dams, are constructed using compacted earth or rockfill materials. They rely on their own weight and slope stability to resist the forces created by the water. Embankment dams are usually built in valleys or river basins where the availability of construction materials is abundant. They are less expensive to build compared to other types of dams. The Aswan Dam in Egypt is an example of a large embankment dam.

5. Concrete Face Rockfill Dams (CFRD)

Concrete face rockfill dams are a combination of an embankment dam and a concrete face slab. They consist of a compacted rockfill core with a concrete face slab on the water side. This type of dam is designed to combine the advantages of both concrete and compacted fill materials. CFRD dams are commonly used in locations where excavating a foundation for a concrete or rockfill dam is challenging. The Bhakra Dam in India is an example of a CFRD.

6. Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) Dams

Roller compacted concrete dams are constructed using a low cement content mixture of aggregate, cement, and water. The mixture is placed and compacted using vibratory rollers. RCC dams are suitable for projects with tight construction schedules and limited access to water. This type of dam is highly durable and can be constructed at a lower cost compared to traditional concrete dams. The Matilija Dam in the United States is an example of an RCC dam.

7. Timber Dams

Timber dams are one of the oldest types of dams used in civil engineering. They were commonly used in the past due to the abundance of timber resources. These dams consist of timber cribs or logs stacked on top of each other to form a barrier. Timber dams are most effective in small-scale projects and in areas with low water pressure. However, they are rarely used today due to their limited lifespan and high maintenance requirements.

8. Arch Gravity Dams

Arch gravity dams are a combination of arch and gravity dams. They have characteristics of both types and utilize the strength of the arch shape and the weight of the structure to withstand water pressure. Arch gravity dams are commonly used in situations where the width of the valley is limited, and a large storage capacity is required. The Hoover Dam is an example of an arch gravity dam.

9. Masonry Dams

Masonry dams are constructed using individual masonry units such as bricks or stones held together with mortar. They have been used for centuries and are known for their durability and strength. Masonry dams require skilled craftsmanship and are typically limited in height due to their construction method. These dams are often used for small-scale projects or historical preservation. The Aspendale Gardens Dam in Australia is an example of a masonry dam.

10. Homogeneous Loose Rockfill Dams

Homogeneous loose rockfill dams are constructed using loose rock material with a level of compaction achieved through natural processes or mechanical means. These dams rely on the friction between the rock particles to resist water pressure. They are commonly used in locations where the availability of suitable construction materials is limited. The Sarvakheil Dam in Iran is an example of a homogeneous loose rockfill dam.

In conclusion, the field of civil engineering utilizes various types of dams to meet specific project requirements. Gravity dams, arch dams, buttress dams, embankment dams, concrete face rockfill dams, roller compacted concrete dams, timber dams, arch gravity dams, masonry dams, and homogeneous loose rockfill dams are some of the commonly used types. Each type has its unique characteristics and advantages, ensuring the efficient management of water resources and providing essential benefits to society.


What is the purpose of a dam?

Dams serve a variety of purposes, including water storage, flood control, hydroelectric power generation, and irrigation. They help in managing and harnessing water resources.

Which is the tallest dam in the world?

The tallest dam in the world is the Jinping-I Dam in China, with a height of 305 metres (1,001 feet).

What are the main components of a dam?

The main components of a dam include the spillway, intake structure, outlet works, powerhouse, and the dam body itself.

How are dams constructed?

Dams are constructed by excavating the foundation, building the dam body using the selected construction material, and providing necessary reinforcements. The process involves careful planning and engineering.

Can dams fail?

Although dams are designed to be structurally sound, there is always a risk of failure due to factors such as extreme weather events, poor maintenance, or geological instability. Regular inspections and maintenance are essential to minimize the risk of failure.

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