Sustainable dam planning: the importance of the filling phase

A study carried out within the DAFNE project published in Nature Communications

Decades of sustainable dam planning efforts have focused on containing dam impacts in regime conditions, when the dam is fully filled and operational, overlooking potential disputes raised by the filling phase.

A study carried out within the DAFNE project and published in Nature Communications argues that filling timing and operations can catalyze most of the conflicts associated with a dam’s lifetime, which can be mitigated by adaptive solutions that respond to medium-to-long term hydroclimatic fluctuations.

The retrospective analysis of the contested recent filling of Gibe III in the Omo-Turkana basin (Ethiopia-Kenya) provides quantitative evidence of the benefits generated by adaptive filling strategies, attaining levels of hydro-power production comparable with the historical ones while curtailing the negative impacts to downstream users.

The results published in the study can inform a more sustainable filling of the new megadam currently under construction downstream of Gibe III or the upcoming filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, and are generalizable to the almost 500 planned dams worldwide in regions influenced by climate feedbacks, thus representing a significant scope to reduce the societal and environmental impacts of a large number of new hydropower reservoirs.

Among the authors of the article there are Marta Zaniolo, PhD, Professor Andrea Castelletti and Professor Matteo Giuliani, from the Departement of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering of the Politecnico di Milano.

Zaniolo, M., Giuliani, M., Sinclair, S. et al.
When timing matters—misdesigned dam filling impacts hydropower sustainability.
Nat Commun 12, 3056 (2021).

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