The Debate Over Large Dams

by Philip B. Williams, (M.ASCE), Pres.; Philip Williams and Associates, San Francisco, CA,
Jan Veltrop, (F.ASCE), Sr. Vice Pres.; Harza Engineering Co., Chicago, IL,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1991, Vol. 61, Issue 8, Pg. 42-48

Document Type: Feature article


Dam megaprojects across the globe are under increasing scrutiny. Critics say large dams have clearly lost their luster. While the outcry over huge public subsidies and high ecological costs has all but halted construction in U.S., public opposition is growing internationally, especially in the Third World, where the adverse effects of dams include not just higher taxes and destroyed fisheries, as in the U.S., but also starvation, destroyed cultures and loss of human rights. Opponents also question dams' safety and claim they really do little to improve economic growth. Dam proponents respond that safe drinking water was brought to 1.3 billion people during the last decade, largely because of dams. The issue at hand, they say, is managing and controlling the water supply, and large dams are the best solution. Supporters also say that dam projects do indeed boost the local economy, and improve the energy supply, flood control and quality of life in general, through countless hidden benefits.

Subject Headings: Dams | Construction costs | Infrastructure construction | Public buildings | Taxation | Fish management | Political factors | Safety

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