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About Dams

Back to designDesigning Dams - Civil Engineers

Planning a dam across a river valley

Planning the position for a dam
across a river valley

Civil engineers work with other engineering specialists to draw together all of the information they provide to plan and design the overall layout of the dam and the other structures at the site. The position selected for the dam will depend on the amount of water it will hold back in the reservoir. It also needs to be located where the rock or soil is strong enough to support its weight.

The civil engineers decide on the best type of dam for the site and on the most suitable materials to be used.

They have to consider all of the forces that can act on the dam and its foundation. These include the force of the reservoir water on the dam and the effect of the weight of the dam on the materials within it and on the foundation below. In some regions, the effects of earthquakes have to be considered.

Civil engineers carry out mathematical calculations to model the dam and the effects of the forces on them. When the calculations get too complicated to do by hand they use computers. With these calculations they can make sure that they are designing safe structures.

The pipework, valves and floodgates for dams are designed by mechanical engineers.

The civil engineering designers are responsible for producing technical drawings showing how the dam is to be constructed. They also produce documents stating exactly how some of the construction processes should be carried out to make sure that the final dam is built to a high standard. Civil engineering contractors use this information to build the dam.