Impact of dams on flood occurrence of selected rivers in the United States

Xuefei Mei, P. H A J M van Gelder, Zhijun Dai*, Zhenghong Tang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


A significant large number of dams have been constructed in the past two centuries in the United States. These dams’ ability to regulate downstream flooding has received world-wide attention. In this study, data from 38 rivers distributed over the entire conterminous Untied States with extensive pre- and post-dam annual peak discharge records, were collected to research the impacts of various dams on the flood behaviors at a national scale. The results indicate that dams have led to significant reductions in flood magnitude for nearly all of the sites; the decrease rate in the mean of annual peak discharge varies between 7.4% and 95.14%, except for the Dead River, which increased by 1.46%. Because of dams’ effectiveness, the probability density curve of annual peak flow changes from a flat to peaked shape because both the range and magnitude of high discharges are decreased. Moreover, the potential impact of dams on flood characteristics were closely related to the dam’s geographic location and function, the ratio of the storage capacity of the dam to the mean annual runoff of the river (C/R), and the ratio of reservoir storage capacity to the area of its drainage (C/D). Specifically, the effects of dams on annual peak flows were more related to latitude than longitude. Compared with dams built for other purposes, the dam exclusively used for flood management cut off more flood peaks. Increases in the ratios of C/R and C/D increased the degree of modification of annual maximum discharge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268–282
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in earth science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • dam
  • flood characteristics
  • flood modification
  • river discharge


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