Oregon State University

Interactive learning modules on dam planning and operations

Detroit Dam

Detroit Dam on the North Santiam River Photo Credit: Bob Heims, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Dam design & operations module: from past to future


Examining the historic conditions surrounding the construction of dams and the development of operations plans provides a baseline from which to trace the current status of dams in the U.S. and their ability to meet modern and future objectives. The long lifespan of dams, along with the costly and complicated procedures required to change operations, means that many dams exist and operate in virtually the same manner today as they did at the time of their construction. Yet, the hydrologic conditions controlling water supplies, along with the socio-economic factors contributing to water system demands, have changed dramatically over the years. As a result, existing infrastructure is often operated according to rules developed for outdated conditions in regard to both supply and demand.

Module objectives and outline

This module engages the user to interactively develop specifications for the structural and operational design of an example dam based on the information typically available at time of construction in the early to mid 20th century, using the American River as a case study. The module presents the same general procedures and data used to design Folsom Dam, completed in 1955 and designated for the purposes of:  flood control, municipal and agricultural water supply, and hydropower production, generally in that order of importance. The following activities step the user through the process of designing a dam to meet each of these individual objectives, as well as the additional objective to provide environmental flows. The module presents users with information driving water supply and demand from which to suggest specifications for designing and operating a dam. Throughout the module users will be challenged to assess their initial design of the dam and operations, and the constraints imposed by those design decisions.

The objectives of this module are to:

  • Familiarize users with dam design and operations terminology
  • Experientially introduce methods used by federal U.S. agencies to design dams, reservoirs, and operations plans
  • Elicit questions about the limitations faced by dam engineers in designing dams and operations plans and what these mean for modern and future water resources management

Terms that may be unfamiliar have been defined throughout the module. Defined terms are underlined and definitions will appear by hovering the mouse over the underlined word. You can find all the defined terms in the glossary.

Module organization

Contact Info

116 Gilmore Hall Corvallis, OR 97331
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