Sand dams for sustainable water management: Challenges and future opportunities

Giulio Castelli*, Luigi Piemontese, Ruth Quinn, Jeroen Aerts, Paul Elsner, Maurits Ertsen, Stephen Hussey, Walter Leal Filho, Natalia Limones, More Authors

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/Letter to the editorScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
70 Downloads (Pure)


Sand dams are impermeable water harvesting structures built to collect and store water within the volume of sediments transported by ephemeral rivers. The artificial sandy aquifer created by the sand dam reduces evaporation losses relative to surface water storage in traditional dams. Recent years have seen a renaissance of studies on sand dams as an effective water scarcity adaptation strategy for drylands. However, many aspects of their functioning and effectiveness are still unclear. Literature reviews have pointed to a range of research gaps that need further scientific attention, such as river corridors and network dynamics, watershed-scale impacts, and interaction with social dynamics. However, the scattered and partially incomplete information across the different reviews would benefit from an integrated framework for directing future research efforts. This paper is a collaborative effort of different research groups active on sand dams and stems from the need to channel future research efforts on this topic in a thorough and coherent way. We synthesize the pivotal research gaps of a) unclear definition of “functioning” sand dams, b) lack of methodologies for watershed-scale analysis, c) neglect of social aspects in sand dam research, and d) underreported impacts of sand dams. We then propose framing future research to better target the synthesized gaps, including using the social-ecological systems framework to better capture the interconnected social and biophysical research gaps on sand dams, fully utilizing the potential of remote sensing in large-scale studies and collecting sand dam cases across the world to create an extensive database to advance evidence-based research on sand dams.
Original languageEnglish
Article number156126
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL)
  • Drought
  • Sandy rivers
  • Water harvesting


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