Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Environmental Sciences; Limnology; Water Resources


Newly available data indicate that darns fragment the fluvial system of the continental United States and that their impact on river discharge is several times greater than impacts deemed likely as a result of global climate change. The 75,000 dams in the continental United States are capable of storing a volume of water almost equaling one year's mean runoff, but there is considerable geographic variation in potential surface water impacts. In some western mountain and plains regions, darns can store more than 3 year's runoff, while in the Northeast and Northwest, storage is as little as 25% of the annual runoff. Dams partition watersheds; the drainage area per dam varies from 44 km(2) (17 miles(2)) per dam in New England to 811 km(2) (313 miles(2)) per dam in the Lower Colorado basin. Storage volumes, indicators of general hydrologic effects of darns, range from 26,200 m(3) km(-2) (55 acre-feet mile(-2)) in the Great Basin to 345,000 m(3) km(-2) (725 acre-feet mile-2) in the South Atlantic region. The greatest river flow impacts occur in the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and the arid Southwest, where storage is up to 3.8 times the mean annual runoff. The nation's dams store 5000 m(3) (4 acre-feet) of water per person. Water resource regions have experienced individualized histories of cumulative increases in reservoir storage (and thus of downstream hydrologic and ecologic impacts), but the most rapid increases in storage occurred between the late 1950s and the late 1970s. Since 1980, increases in storage have been relatively minor.

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