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Various types of dams are constructed based on their usage. These dams are classified based on construction material used, structure and design, functions, hydraulic design and size.

Types of Dams in Construction

Classification Based on Construction Material used for a Dam

Rigid Dam

A dam is said to be Rigid Dam if it is constructed using rigid construction materials such as masonry, concrete, steel, timber etc. The basic shape of rigid dam is triangular. Rigid dams constructed using different rigid materials are discussed below.

1. Masonry Dam

Masonry dams are built using either stone masonry or brick masonry. Cement mortar is used to join the masonry blocks. Gravity dam, arch dam etc. are examples of masonry dams.

Masonry Dam

Fig 1: Nagarjuna Sagar Masonry Dam, India

2. Concrete Dam

Concrete is most commonly used material to construct a dam. Most of the major dams in the world are built using concrete. Gravity dams, arch dam, Buttress dam etc. can be constructed using concrete.

Concrete Dam

Fig 2: Three Gorges Concrete Dam, China

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3. Timber Dam

Timber dams generally used for temporary purposes such as to divert the water for the construction of main dam, to control flood water flow etc. Timber dams are suitable up to 9 meters height.

Timber Dam

Fig 3: Timber Dam

4. Steel Dam

Steel dams are also used for temporary requirements like timber dams.  Steel plates and inclined struts are used for the construction of steel dam. This type of dams are suitable up to 15 to 18 meters of height.

Steel Dam

Fig 4: Redridge Steel Dam, USA

Non-Rigid Dam

Non-rigid dams are constructed using non rigid materials such as earth, rocks etc. Basic shape of non-rigid dam Trapezoidal. Non-rigid dams of different materials are

  • Earthen Dams
  • Rock Fill Dams

5. Earthen Dam

Earthen dams are made of ordinary soil which is cheaply available. This type of dams are suitable where the foundation soil is very weak and not strong enough to carry the weight of masonry dam. Since it is constructed using soil the cost of construction is very less compared to rigid type dam.

Earthen Dam

Fig 5: Earthen Dam

Also Read: Types of Earthfill Dams – Applications and Advantages

6. Rock Fill Dam

Rock fill dams are constructed using rocks and boulders. Upstream side of dam is built with dry rubble masonry and loose rock fill is provided on the downstream side. A reinforced concrete slab layer is also provided on the upstream side to make it water tight.

It is more stable than earthen dams and its flexible nature helps it better against earthquake forces.

Rock fill Dam

Fig 6: Damghan Rock-fill Dam, Iran

Classification Based on Structure and Design of a Dam

Depending upon structure and design dams are classified into

  • Gravity dam
  • Arch dam
  • Buttress dam
  • Embankment dam

7. Gravity Dam

A Gravity dam is a structure which resists the external forces by its own weight or self-weight. Gravity dams are generally constructed by using masonry or concrete.

Various external forces like water pressure, uplift pressure, wave pressure, ice pressure, earth quake pressure etc. are resisted by its self-weight only which acts vertically downwards. So, good foundation is required to construct gravity dam preferably rocky strata under the dam.

The shape of cross section of gravity dam is approximately triangular in shape. Infiltration gallery can be provided within the dam to resist uplift pressure. The failure of gravity dam may occurs due to sliding, overturning or crushing at toe. Hence, higher factor of safety is recommended for the design of gravity dam.

Gravity Dam

Fig 7: Grand Coulee Gravity Dam, USA

8. Arch Dam

An arch dam is curved in plan with its convex upstream. Various forces coming onto the dam are resisted by its arch action. It is constructed using masonry or concrete but requires less material compared to gravity dam.

The loads coming onto the dam are transferred to the abutments of dam. So, abutments must be stronger and generally natural formations like hills are used as abutments. Arch dams are generally preferred for narrow valleys.

Arch dam is economical when the length of dam is less than its height. So, this type of dams can be build up to greater heights.

Arch Dam

Fig 8: El Atazar Arch Dam, Spain

9. Buttress Dam

A buttress dam contains face slab, buttresses and base slab. Face slab is provided on the upstream side with some inclination and this slab is supported by series of buttresses which are nothing but supports. Base slab acts as foundation for the whole dam which receives the load from buttresses and face slab.

Buttress dam is either straight or curved in plan. Greater the height of dam higher the number of buttresses. This type of dams are preferred where the foundation soil is very weak. The space available between the buttresses can used for several purposes like water treatment plant installation, power plant installation etc.

Buttress Dam

Fig 9: The Daniel-Johnson Buttress Dam, Canada

10. Embankment Dam

Embank dam is made of soil or rocks. This type of dams are come under non rigid type dams. Embankment dams are again classified into three different types

  • Homogeneous Embankment Type Dam
  • Zoned Embankment Type Dam
  • Diaphragm Embankment Dam

Also Read: Operations in Embankment Dam Construction

Homogeneous Embankment Type Dam

If the dam is constructed using only one type of soil then it is called as homogeneous embankment type dam. But homogeneity of soil makes the dam pervious and allow seepage of water through the dam. To overcome this stone pitching is recommended on the upstream side.

Homogeneous Embankment Dam

Fig 10: Homogeneous Embankment Dam

Zoned Embankment Type Dam

Zoned embankment dam consists an impervious soil zone inside the pervious soil layer. Clay or silt or mixture of clay and silt is used to make the impervious zone. Ordinary soil is used for make the previous outer layer.

Zoned Embankment Dam

Fig 11: Zoned Embankment Dam

Diaphragm Embankment Dam

Diaphragm embankment dam consists a diaphragm inside the earthen dam and it is made of impervious soils or concrete or steel or timber. This diaphragm prevents the seepage of water through dam section.

Diaphragm Embankment Dam

Fig 12: Diaphragm Embankment Dam

Classification Based on Functions of a Dam

Based on Functions Dams are classified into

  • Storage dam
  • Diversion Dam
  • Detention Dam
  • Debris dam
  • Coffer dam

11. Storage Dam

Storage dam is constructed to store water on the upstream side especially during rainy seasons and is released during dry weather season or when there is higher demand of water. The stored water can also be used to generate power, irrigation, water supply etc.

Storage Dam

Fig 13: Storage Arch Dam

12. Diversion Dam

Diversion dam is a dam which is constructed to divert the flow of water into other channel or canal. This type dams are generally used to fill the irrigation channels.

Diversion Dam

Fig 14: Granite Reef Diversion Dam, USA

13. Detention Dam

The main purpose of Detention dam is to control floods. During flood period, it stores the water and protects the downstream side from damage due to floods. After the flood period the stored water is released at a controlled rate without effecting the downstream side.

14. Debris Dam

Debris dam is built to retain the debris of the river water. Sand, gravel, driftwood etc. are debris generally flow with river water. The water on the downstream side of debris dam is clear.

Debris Dam

Fig 15: Mono Debris Dam, USA

15. Cofferdam

Cofferdam is temporary structure which generally acts like diversion dam. Cofferdam provides dry area for the construction of main dam by diverting the water flow into other watercourse. It is constructed on upstream side or fully around the construction site.

Coffer Dam

Fig 16: Coffer Dam

16. Hydro-power Dam

Hydro-power dam is used to generate electricity by rotating turbines with the help of water falling from upstream side to downstream side of dam.

Hydropower Dam

Fig 17: Cheruthoni Hydropower Dam, India

Classification Based on Hydraulic Design of Dam

Based on hydraulic design dams are classified into 2 types as follows

  • Overflow dam
  • Non-overflow dam

17. Overflow Dam

Overflow dam is a dam which allows the water over its crest when surplus water is flowing on the upstream side. This is also called as spillway dam or over fall dam.

Overflow Dam

Fig 18: Canyon Lake Dam, USA

18. Non-Overflow Dam

A dam which do not allow the surplus water to overflow over its crest. But in general spillway is provided for any type dam to release the excess water from upstream side.

Non-overflow Dam

Fig 19: Non-overflow Dam

Classification Based on Gross Storage of Dam

Dams are classified into three types based on gross storage capacity of dam and they are

  • Small Dam
  • Medium Dam
  • Large Dam

19. Small Dam

A dam is called as small dam if its gross storage capacity is in between 0.5 to 10 MCM (million cubic meters). Hydraulic head of small dam is generally about 7.5 to 12 meters.

Small Dam

Fig 20: Small Dam

20. Medium Dam

If gross storage capacity of a dam is in between 10 to 60 MCM then it is said to be medium storage dam. Its hydraulic head is 12 to 30 meters.

Medium Dam

Fig 21: Medium Dam

21. Large Dam

A dam is said to be large dam if its gross storage capacity is above 60 MCM. Hydraulic head of a large dam is greater than 30 meters.

Large Dam

Fig 22: Large Dam

Sadanandam Anupoju

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  1. Good info..
    It would b more helpful if u add some more pictures of various dams accross globe

  2. nice information about dam but it;s not enough is not difine based on function

  3. Great and genenral info about dams. Helpfull and useful for civil engineers.

  4. This post helped me to know the types of dams and its detail information.

  5. good information on types of helped me alot.