List of Top 10 Largest Dams in the World: History, Purpose, and Global Impact | Engineering Marvels Unveiled

Dams work as barriers to restrict or stop the flow of rivers or groundwater streams. Dams are made across the river or a stream to obstruct the water flow and store the backwater. Making dams is not a modern concept. People from ancient times used to make dams. They used to make dams using clay or rocks. In modern times, dams are made up of concrete and other building materials. 

Dams are one of the most gigantic man-made structures. Many great dams were built with several million tonnes of soil, concrete, rocks and other building materials across the rivers or estuaries to trap the water. Dams accomplish different functions such as reserving water for human consumption and irrigation, defending against excess flood water, generation of hydroelectric energy and making water transport easier with recreational activities.

 

1. Kariba Dam

Kariba Dam

Kariba Dam started building in 1955 and the construction was completed in 1959. It is built on the Zambezi River on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kriba is the largest dam in the world. Its height is 128 metres and length is 579 metres. It is an arch dam with a reservoir capacity of 185 billion cubic metres of water. The construction was done by an Italian consortium which includes Impresa Umberto Girola, Impresa Ing. Lodigiani, Impresa Italiana all’estero and Impresa Ing. Giuseppe Torno e Co. The dam has two turbines and it generates 1,320 megawatts of electricity for both of the bordering countries. 

  • Location: Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi River, bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia.
  • Construction: Constructed in 1959.
  • Purpose: Hydroelectric power generation and flood control.
  • Reservoir Capacity: 180.6 billion cubic metres.
  • Significance: One of Africa’s largest dams, provides electricity to both countries.
  • Renaming/Other Names: None.
  • Concerns: Environmental impact on aquatic ecosystems 
  • Impact: Significant contribution to power supply and economic development. 

 

 

2. Bratsk Dam

Bratsk Dam

Bratsk Dam is the second biggest dam in the world by the capacity of its reservoir. It is located in Siberia, Russia. It has 160 billion cubic metres of capacity to hold the same amount of volume of water. The height of the dam is 125 metres and its length is 1.5 kilometres which is spread in 5.4 square kilometres of area. A railway and a highway run along the dam. The Bratsk Dam produces around 4,500 megawatts of electricity with 18 turbines. 

  • Location: Bratsk, Irkutsk Oblast, Russia.
  • Construction: Completed in 1964.
  • Purpose: Hydroelectric power generation and flood control.
  • Reservoir Capacity: 169.27 billion cubic metres.
  • Significance: One of the largest hydroelectric dams in Russia, contributing to the country’s energy supply.
  • Renaming/Other Names:.None
  • Concerns:  Environmental impact on local ecosystems and displacement of communities during construction.
  • Impact: Provides a significant portion of Russia’s electricity and supports regional economic development.

 

 

3. Akosombo Dam

Akosombo Dam

Akosombo dam is the third largest dam in the world with 144 billion cubic metres of water holding capacity. It is also known by another name, the Volta Dam. It is a hydroelectric dam. The dam is built on the Volta River in Akosombo Gorge in Southern Ghana. Lake Volta was created after the construction of the dam in the flooded portion of the river Volta basin. Lake Volta is the largest human-made lake by surface area on earth. Akosombo Dam was completely constructed in 1965 after beginning the construction in 1961. The World Bank United States and United Kingdom governments gave the financial aid to construct this dam. Power supplies of this dam generate enough electricity for Ghana, Togo and Benin. 

  • Location: Volta River, southeastern Ghana.
  • Construction: Completed in 1965.
  • Purpose: Hydroelectric power generation, irrigation, and flood control.
  • Reservoir Capacity: 153 million cubic metres.
  • Significance: Largest Human-made lake in the world by surface area, at the time of its completion, provides electricity and supports agriculture.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Volta Dam
  • Concerns: Displacement of people during its construction, environmental impact on the ecosystems.
  • Impact: Generates a significant portion of Ghana’s electricity and supports agricultural water supply.

 

 

4. Daniel Johnson Dam

Daniel Johnson Dam

The Daniel-Johnson Dam was previously known as Manic-5. It is a multiple-arch buttress dam. It is located north of Comeau Quebec, Canada on the Manicouagan River. The dam has 14 buttresses and 13 arches which created the annular Manicouagan Reservoir. It was built between the years 1959 and 1970 to secure hydroelectric power needs and to supply water to the Manic-5 and Manic-5PA powerhouses. The height of the dam is 214 metres and the length is 1.314 metres. It generates 2,660 megawatts of power. The water holding capacity of its reservoir is around 140 billion cubic metres. 

  • Location: Manicouagan River, Quebec, Canada.
  • Construction: Construction was completed in 1968.
  • Purpose: Water management and Hydroelectric power generation.
  • Reservoir Capacity: 141.852 million cubic metres.
  • Significance: One of the biggest multiple-arch dams in the world, providing a major portion of hydroelectricity to Quebec.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Manic-5
  • Concerns: Environmental consequences on local ecosystems and displacement of wildlife.
  • Impact: Supplies a notable portion of Quebec’s electricity requirements and manages water flow for downstream areas.

 

 

5. Guri Dam

Guri Dam

The Guri Dam or Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant is a concrete gravity and embankment type of dam. It was also known as the Raul Leoni Hydroelectric Plant. Guri Dam is located in the Bolivar State, Venezuela on the Caroni River. It was constructed between the years 1963 and 1969. The dam is 7,426 metres long and 162 metres tall. The Guri reservoir created by the dam is spread in the 4.250 square kilometres of area, and is one of the largest reservoirs on the earth. The capacity of this reservoir is around 135 billion cubic metres. Guri Dam generates around one-third of Venezuela’s electricity and power is supplied to Colombia and Brazil. 

  • Location: Caroní River, Venezuela.
  • Construction: Constructed in 1986.
  • Purpose: Hydroelectric power generation and flood control.
  • Reservoir Capacity: Around 138 billion cubic metres.
  • Significance: The biggest hydroelectric power station in Venezuela, supplies a large amount of the country’s electricity.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Also known as the Raúl Leoni Dam.
  • Concerns: Environmental effect on surrounding ecosystems and displacement of indigenous communities during construction.
  • Impact: Provides clean and renewable energy, and supports Venezuela’s industrial and economic development.

 

 

 

6. Aswan Dam

Aswan Dam is one the largest embankment dams on the earth. The Dam is located on the Nile River, in Aswan, Egypt. It was completely built in the year 1970 after its construction began in 1960. At the time it was completely built, it was the highest earthen dam in the world. It was constructed after the Free Officers movement of 1952 for better flooding control, irrigation management and hydroelectricity generation. The construction of the dam was very important for Egypt’s upcoming industrialization. The Gamal Abdel Nasser Lake made by this dam’s reservoir is named after the former Egyptian president. The water holding capacity of this reservoir is 132 billion cubic metres. It provides water to Sudan and Egypt for irrigation. The plant generates around 2,100 megawatts of electricity. 

  • Location: Nile River near Aswan, Egypt.
  • Construction: Completed in 1970.
  • Purpose: Hydroelectric power generation, flood control, and irrigation.
  • Reservoir Capacity: Around 168.9 billion cubic metres 
  • Significance: One of the largest dams globally which supplies electricity to Egypt’s industries and agricultural sectors.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Also known as the Aswan High Dam.
  • Concerns: Displacement of people, environmental impacts on the Nile Delta, and reduced silt deposition adversely affecting agriculture.
  • Impact: Provides reliable electricity, facilitates controlled irrigation, and prevents catastrophic floods.

 

 

7. W.A.C. Bennett Dam

The W. A. C. Bennett Dam is a hydroelectric dam which is 186 metres high. This dam is situated on the Peace River in Northern British Columbia, Canada. Bennett Dam is one of the tallest earthfill dams on earth. It started building in 1961 and construction was finished in 1968. It is 183 metres tall and around two kilometres long. The Williston reservoir made by this dam is fed by three rivers named Finlay, Parsnip and Peace. It is the third biggest artificial lake in the North American continent. The cost of the construction was $750 million for this dam. The Gordon M. Shrum generation station at this dam generates around 13,000 GWh of electricity yearly. 

  • Location: Peace River, British Columbia, Canada.
  • Construction: Construction was completed in 1967.
  • Purpose: Hydroelectric power generation.
  • Reservoir Capacity: Approximately 70.309 billion cubic metres.
  • Significance: Supplies a significant portion of British Columbia’s electricity needs.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Portage Mountain Dam
  • Concerns: Environmental impact on local ecosystems, i.e.; disruption of fish habitats.
  • Impact: Provides clean and renewable energy, and contributes to the regional economy.

 

8. Krasnoyarsk Dam

The Krasnoyarsk Dam is a concrete gravity dam which is around 124 metres tall. It is located on the Yenisei River in Divnogorsk, Russia. It generates 6000 Megawatts of electricity to supply the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Plant. Its construction began in 1956 and completed in 1972. It was the largest power plant until 1983 when Grand Coulee Dam was constructed in Washington DC. The dam is printed on the 10-ruble banknote. The Krasnoyarsk Reservoir created by this dam, also known as Krasnoyarsk Sea, spreads in 2000 square kilometres of area with a water holding capacity of 73.3 cubic metres. 

  • Location: Situated on the Yenisei River near Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
  • Construction: Constructed in 1972.
  • Purpose: hydroelectric power generation and flood control.
  • Reservoir Capacity: approximately 73.3 billion cubic metres
  • Significance: One of the largest hydroelectric dams in Russia which supplies electricity to Siberian industries and cities.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Also known as Krasnoyarsk Hydroelectric Power Station.
  • Concerns: Adverse Impact on Environment and natural ecosystems, eviction of populations during construction.
  • Impact: Provides an important source of renewable energy for the region and supports industrial and economic development.

 

9. Zeya Dam

Zeya dam is located in Zeya town Amur Oblast, Russia. It is built across the Zeya River. The capacity of the Zeya hydroelectric power plant is 4.91  Terawatt hours annually. It consists of 6 hydro turbines of which 4 turbines have 225 megawatt capacity and 2 others have 215 megawatts capacity. The water holding capacity of the reservoir is 68 billion metres. The dam is situated near the Chinese Border. 

  • Location: Located on the Zeya River in the Amur Oblast, Russia.
  • Construction: Built between 1964 and 1978.
  • Purpose: Primarily constructed for hydroelectric power generation and flood control.
  • Reservoir Capacity: The reservoir created by the dam has a capacity of approximately 68.4 billion cubic metres.
  • Significance: Plays a crucial role in providing electricity to the remote regions of the Russian Far East.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Also known as Zeya Hydroelectric Power Station.
  • Concerns: Environmental impact on the local ecosystem, including changes in river flow patterns.
  • Impact: Provides renewable energy to the region, supporting economic development and infrastructure.

 

 

10. Owen Falls Dam

Owen Falls Dam was constructed in 1947 near Jinja town, Uganda, under the recommendations of an English engineer during the reign of the colonial government. The Owen Falls was a waterfall on the White Nile River in Uganda. In 1954 the Owen Falls and Ripon Falls were submerged to make Nalubaale hydroelectric power stations. The reservoir of the Owen Falls Dam made Victory Lake. The dam is located near the point where the white Nile River leaves Victoria Lake.

  • Location: Near Jinja, Uganda, on the Victoria Nile.
  • Construction: Constructed in 1954.
  • Purpose: Primary hydroelectric facility.
  • Reservoir Capacity: Created Lake Victoria, with a capacity of approximately 2.7 billion cubic metres and 2,726 feet (831 metres) long and 102 feet (31 metres) high.
  • Renaming/Other Names: Nalubaale Power Station since 1999.
  • Significance: Vital for Uganda’s energy sector, supplying power locally and regionally.
  • Concerns: Raised environmental issues and displaced communities.
  • Impact: Contributed to economic development despite challenges.

 

 

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World’s Largest Dams by Size of Reservoir

Name Type Date of Completion River Country Reservoir Capacity (000 cubic metres)
Owen Falls G 1954 Victoria Nile Uganda 2,700,000,000
Kakhovka EG 1955 Dnieper Ukraine 182,000,000
Kariba A 1959 Zambezi Zimbabwe-Zambia 180,600,000
Bratsk EG 1964 Angara Russia 169,270,000
Aswan High ER 1970 Nile Egypt 168,900,000
Akosombo ER 1965 Volta Ghana 153,000,000
Daniel Johnson M 1968 Manicouagan Canada 141,852,000
Guri (Raúl Leoni) EGR 1986 Caroní Venezuela 138,000,000
Krasnoyarsk G 1967 Yenisey Russia 73,300,000
W.A.C. Bennett E

 

World’s Largest Dams by Height

Name Type Date of Completion River Country Height (metres)
Nurek E 1980 Vakhsh Tajikistan 300
Grande Dixence G 1961 Dixence Switzerland 285
Inguri A 1980 Inguri Georgia 272
Vaiont A 1961 Vaiont Italy 262
Chicoasen ER 1980 Grijalva Mexico 261
Tehri ER 2002 Bhagirathi India 261
Mauvoisin A 1957 Drance de Bagnes Switzerland 250
Guavio ER 1989 Guavio Colombia 246
Sayano-Shushenskoye AG 1989 Yenisey Russia 245
Mica ER 1973 Columbia Canada 242
Ertan A 1999 Yalong (Ya-lung) China 240
Chivor ER 1957 Batá Colombia 237

 

World’s Largest Dams by Volume

Name Type Date of Completion River Country Volume (000 cubic metres)
Syncrude Tailings E N/A Canada 750,000
New Cornelia Tailings E 1973 Ten Mile Wash U.S. 209,500
Tarbela ER 1977 Indus Pakistan 106,000
Fort Peck E 1937 Missouri U.S. 96,050
Lower Usuma E 1990 Usuma Nigeria 93,000
Tucurui EGR 1984 Tocantins Brazil 85,200
Ataturk ER 1990 Euphrates Turkey 84,500
Guri (Raúl Leoni) EGR 1986 Caroní Venezuela 77,971
Oahe E 1958 Missouri U.S. 66,517
Gardiner E 1968 Saskatchewan Canada 65,400
Mangla E 1967 Jhelum Pakistan 65,379
Afsluitdijk E 1932 IJsselmeer Netherlands 63,430

 

World’s Largest Dams by Power Capacity

Name Type Date of Completion River Country Installed Capacity (megawatts)
Itaipú EGR 1982 Paraná Brazil-Paraguay 12,600
Guri (Raúl Leoni) EGR 1986 Caroní Venezuela 10,300
Grand Coulee G 1941 Columbia U.S. 6,480
Sayano-Shushenskoye AG 1989 Yenisey Russia 6,400
Krasnoyarsk G 1967 Yenisey Russia 6,000
Churchill Falls E 1971 Churchill Canada 5,428
La Grande 2 R 1978 La Grande Canada 5,328
Bratsk EG 1964 Angara Russia 4,500
Ust-Ilim R 1977 Angara Russia 4,320
Tucurui EGR 1984 Tocantins Brazil 4,200
Ilha Solteira 1973 Paraná Brazil 3,200
Tarbela ER 1977 Indus Pakistan 3,478

 

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