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The Environmental Impacts of Large Dams Land and water are ecologically linked in a natural system called a watershed From the smallest droplet to the mightiest river water works to shape the land taking with it sediment and dissolved materials that drain to watercourses and in most cases eventually to the sea So is the river a product of the land it inhabits--the type of rock and soil the shape of the land and the amount of vegetation are some of the factors that determine the rivers shape size and flow When these ties between the land and the river are broken by a large dam the consequences are felt throughout the watershed as well as by the web of life it supports Of all the ways to tamper with or harm a river a large dam usually has the most immediate and far-reaching effects because of the huge changes it causes to river circulation system Some 40000 large dams most of which were built in the past 50 years now obstruct the worlds rivers More than 400000 square kilometers--an area larger than Zimbabwe and 13 times the size of Lesotho Volta Reservoir behind Ghanas Akasombo Dam flooded 4 of that nations land area In the United States whose 5500 large dams make it the second most dammed country in the world we have stopped building large dams and are now spending great amounts of money trying to fix the problems created by existing dams Although the impacts of large dams have been well documented for some time now in case after case new ones are proposed whose environmental impacts are downplayed or even ignored A suvey showed that most dams were built without the consideration of downstream effects even when these impacts could be predicted to cause massive coastal erosion pollution and other problems Reducing the flow of water from a river changes the landscape it flows through which in
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