Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The unintended consequences of dams and reservoirs

14.11.2018

An international team of drought scientists show that while many dams and reservoirs are built, or expanded, to alleviate droughts and water shortages, they can paradoxically contribute to make them worse. The study is published in Nature Sustainability.

Building dams and reservoirs is one of the most common approaches to cope with drought and water shortage. The aim is straightforward: reservoirs can store water during wet periods, and then release it during dry periods.


An international team of drought scientists show that while many dams and reservoirs are built, or expanded, to alleviate droughts and water shortages, they can paradoxically contribute to make them worse. The study is published in Nature Sustainability.

Credit: Michelangelo Brandimarte

As such, they can stabilize water availability, thereby satisfying water demand and alleviating water shortage. The research team behind the new study was led by professor Giuliano Di Baldassarre at Uppsala University.

Their paper shows that increasing reservoir storage capacity can also lead to unintended effects in the long term, and, paradoxically, worsen water shortage.

The authors argue that there are two counterintuitive phenomena that should be considered when expanding or planning reservoirs: the supply-demand cycle and the reservoir effect.

The supply-demand cycle describes cases where increasing water supply leads to higher water demand, which can quickly offset the initial benefits of reservoirs. These cycles can be seen as a rebound effect, also known in environmental economics as Jevon's paradox: as more water is available, water consumption tends to increase.

This can result in a vicious cycle: a new water shortage can be addressed by further expansion of reservoir storage to increase (again) water availability, which enables more water consumption, until the next shortage... As such, the supply-demand cycle can trigger an accelerating spiral towards unsustainable exploitation of water resources and environmental degradation.

The reservoir effect describes cases where over-reliance on reservoirs increases the potential damage caused by drought and water shortage. The expansion of reservoirs often reduces incentives for preparedness and adaptive actions, thus increasing the negative impacts of water shortage.

Moreover, extended periods of abundant water supply, supported by reservoirs, can generate higher dependence on water resources, which in turn increases social vulnerability and economic damage when water shortage eventually occurs.

The new study also provides policy implications. The authors argue that attempts to increase water supply to cope with growing water demand, which is fueled by the increase in supply, is unsustainable.

Hence, they suggest less reliance on large water infrastructure, such as dams and reservoirs, and more efforts in water conservation measures. In other words, coping with drought and water shortage by reducing water consumption, rather than (fueling consumption by) increasing water supply.

While many water experts would agree with this general recommendation, numerous dams and reservoirs are still being built or proposed in many places around the world.

Lastly, the authors posit that the notion that "we must increase water availability to satisfy a growing water demand" remains pervasive because there are major knowledge gaps in the study of the dynamics generated by the interplay of water, society and infrastructure.

Thus, they propose an interdisciplinary research agenda to unravel the long-term effects (including the unintended consequences) of reservoirs, and other types of water infrastructure, on the spatiotemporal distribution of both water availability and demand.

Media Contact

Giuliano Di Baldassarre
Giuliano.Dibaldassarre@geo.uu.se
46-184-717-162

 @UU_University

http://www.uu.se 

Giuliano Di Baldassarre | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Tiny satellites reveal water dynamics in thousands of northern lakes
15.02.2019 | Brown University

nachricht Artificial Intelligence to boost Earth system science
14.02.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Regensburg physicists watch electron transfer in a single molecule

For the first time, an international team of scientists based in Regensburg, Germany, has recorded the orbitals of single molecules in different charge states in a novel type of microscopy. The research findings are published under the title “Mapping orbital changes upon electron transfer with tunneling microscopy on insulators” in the prestigious journal “Nature”.

The building blocks of matter surrounding us are atoms and molecules. The properties of that matter, however, are often not set by these building blocks...

Im Focus: University of Konstanz gains new insights into the recent development of the human immune system

Scientists at the University of Konstanz identify fierce competition between the human immune system and bacterial pathogens

Cell biologists from the University of Konstanz shed light on a recent evolutionary process in the human immune system and publish their findings in the...

Im Focus: Transformation through Light

Laser physicists have taken snapshots of carbon molecules C₆₀ showing how they transform in intense infrared light

When carbon molecules C₆₀ are exposed to an intense infrared light, they change their ball-like structure to a more elongated version. This has now been...

Im Focus: Famous “sandpile model” shown to move like a traveling sand dune

Researchers at IST Austria find new property of important physical model. Results published in PNAS

The so-called Abelian sandpile model has been studied by scientists for more than 30 years to better understand a physical phenomenon called self-organized...

Im Focus: Cryo-force spectroscopy reveals the mechanical properties of DNA components

Physicists from the University of Basel have developed a new method to examine the elasticity and binding properties of DNA molecules on a surface at extremely low temperatures. With a combination of cryo-force spectroscopy and computer simulations, they were able to show that DNA molecules behave like a chain of small coil springs. The researchers reported their findings in Nature Communications.

DNA is not only a popular research topic because it contains the blueprint for life – it can also be used to produce tiny components for technical applications.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Global Legal Hackathon at HAW Hamburg

11.02.2019 | Event News

The world of quantum chemistry meets in Heidelberg

30.01.2019 | Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

The Internet of Things: TU Graz researchers increase the dependability of smart systems

18.02.2019 | Interdisciplinary Research

Laser Processes for Multi-Functional Composites

18.02.2019 | Process Engineering

Scientists Create New Map of Brain’s Immune System

18.02.2019 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>