The 10 Biggest Dams in the World

Remoteness often characterizes the biggest dams in the world. Most of these supply energy and water to local communities.

But in a way, all of them are true engineering marvels as they deal with high water pressure constantly. Surprisingly, some of the biggest dams in the world can also be visited so that people can admire them up close.

Table of Contents

10. Nurek Dam

Image: Wikimedia / Ibrahim Rustamov

The Nurek Dam is situated in Tajikistan. This Asian country is known for its massive constructions to build before the ‘90s, which is also the case of the Nurek Dam. Designed and built in the ‘80s, it’s still one of the most important structures in the country. It now produces 4-gigawatt hydroelectricity.

While it produces a lot of electricity, the dam is also used as a water reservoir. Nearby agricultural fields benefit from a constant source of water thanks to the dam built like a tank by the Soviets.

9. San Luis Dam

Image: Wikimedia / Zurfa

Located just outside Los Banos in California, San Luis Dam is an earth-filled structure that is part of the Saint Luis Reservoir. The reservoir is part of a large complex where even fishing is allowed. 3 locations are designated as areas for drinking water and for fishing. The dam is also the location where you can go boating, but you need to ensure you stay within the designated areas.

8. Oroville Dam

With a height of over 200 meters, Oroville Dam is also situated in California. With the help of Feather River, the San Joaquin Valley gets an excellent water source. But the dam also has a very strategic role. It has been built to prevent floods and it has done so a few times in history.

Oroville Lake is also nearby. Its water level is always controlled by the Oroville Dam. Both the lake and the dam can be visited and photographed in person. However, not everybody is happy this massive structure has been built in the area. Environmentalists argue one of the negative impacts of the Oroville Dam is blocking the natural migration of the Chinook salmon.

7. Gardiner Dam

Image: SnappyGoat

Found in Canada, the Gardiner Dam has variable height. At its highest point, it measures 64 meters. However, it has a strategic role despite its somewhat unimpressive size. It has helped create Lake Diefenbaker.

The artificial lake provides the much-needed energy for local use. It has a maximum depth of 217 but it also has a vast size. You need to be prepared to walk hundreds of miles if you want to see the lake on foot.

6. Mangla Dam

Image: Wikimedia / S zillayali

Pakistan has its own issues with water supplies due to its large population. One of the problems in this area has been fixed by building the 140-meters Mangla Dam. It formed the Mangla Reservoir and it took a lot of effort to construct. 8 American companies joined forces to build it.

The dam was constructed to regulate water flow for agricultural purposes. But the dam had its share of dark days. The Indo-Pakistani war saw the dam bombed from the air in 1971. Like all bombings, it was an illegal act. Furthermore, it also trespassed an international pact that clearly stated no dams should be bombed in case of a war.

5. Oahe Dam

Image: Flickr / OmahaUSACE

With a height of just 75 meters, Oahe Dam is made from earth. It creates Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. The lake has a size of 1.500 square kilometers and a maximum depth of 62 meters. It has a strategic role in providing electricity for the North-Central United States. The fish population is maintained here over the years. Chinook salmon is native to the Northwest and it can be found in the Lake Oahe as anglers can’t find this fish otherwise due to the Oahe Dam.

4. Houtribdijk

Houtribdijk is found in The Netherlands, a country that knows how to do proper water-level management. It connects the small towns of Lelystad and Enkhuizen and it offers spectacular views both from the ground and from up in the air. It’s now crossed by thousands of vehicles and bikes every day. However, it also helps control water levels which are a national Dutch concern. You can visit the dam yourself by renting a bike in one of the 2 cities and cycling its full length with the option of stopping at designated areas to take photos.

3. Atatürk Dam

Image: Wikimedia / Bernard Gagnon

Producing 8.900 gigawatts, the dam in the Eastern part of Turkey has been named after a famous local leader. It’s one of the most complex dams on the list as it sits on very uneven terrain. Its costs reflect the complexity of its engineering. Some say its cost sits above 1 million USD. However, its strategic role in producing energy was worth the investment.

2. Fort Peck Dam

You can see Fort Peck Dam when you visit Montana. Found in the Northern part of the state, this dam has multiple natural walls in the form of hills that create the Fort Peck Lake. It’s one of the largest man-made lakes in the US. Built more than 8 decades ago, it now supplies power to the locals and an area of relaxation and fishing.

1. Tarbela Dam

Image: Wikimedia / Omeas Mumtaz Siddiqui

One of the most impressive dams in the world is almost impossible to reach without catching a few airplanes and a few car rides. The 250 square kilometers Tarbla Dam in Pakistan is an impressive 1976 structure that can be admired in person. Students at the nearby Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Technology often admire it, in person, as the dam is close to their premises.

It took over 1.4 billion dollars to construct this dam and its estimated more money is need for its foreseeable expansion. However, the dam is also seen as a potential weak point and possible military conflicts have shown this to be the case in reality. The conflict with India saw this dam bombed in the past and treaties are being signed to keep it safe even in the eventually of further military escalations between the countries.