The World's Oldest Dams Still in Operation

The Cornalvo Dam in Spain.
The Cornalvo Dam in Spain.

Dams have been built over rivers and lakes since the ancient times. Although the design and technology of dam building has altered over the years, the concept is an old one. Today, generation of hydroelectricity is one of the main purposes of dam building. In the past, dams were mainly built to control floods and irrigate agricultural lands. Here is a list of some of the world’s oldest dams that are functional even today.

Quatinah Barrage / Lake Homs Dam, Syria

The Lake Homs Dam is found close to the Syrian city of Homs. As per one hypothesis, the dam was built by the Egyptian king Sethi ((1319–1304 BC). However, according to a new study, the dam was built by Diocletian, a Roman emperor in 284 AD. The reservoir of the dam has a capacity of 90 million cubic m.

Proserpina Dam, Spain

This dam was built in the 1st or 2nd century AD across the brook of Las Pardillas in the Badajoz province of Spain. It was built with the purpose of supplying water to the inhabitants of Emerita Augusta city. The earth dam is still in use and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cornalvo Dam, Spain

This dam is also located in the Spanish province of Badajoz. It was also built around the same time as the Proserpina Dam. It is a Roman gravity dam that is currently a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cornalvo Dam is situated on the Albarregas River and is 24 m high and 194 m in length. The reservoir of the dam currently supplies water to the Merida city.

Kaerumataike Dam, Japan

The Kaerumataike Dam is located in Japan. It is located on the Yodo River in the Nara Prefecture of Japan. The dam was built in 162 AD. Japan’s biggest freshwater lake, the Lake Biwa, feeds the river on which the dam exists. The reservoir created by the dam is an important source of drinking water for the people living in the Kansai region. The dam has a length and height of 260 m and 17 m, respectively.

Kallanai Dam / Grand Anicut, India

Built in the 2nd century AD, the Kallanai Dam is one of the oldest dams in the world. It straddles the Kaveri river in Tamil Nadu, India. The Indian ruler Karikala Chola of the Chola Dynasty is credited with the construction of this dam. The dam was built to divert water towards the delta region for irrigation purposes. Today, the water helps irrigate 400,000 ha of land. The dam has a length, width, and height of 329 m, 20 m, and 5.4 m, respectively.

Sayamaike Dam, Japan

The Sayamaike Dam is located in Osaka Prefecture’s Osakasayama city in Japan. It was built in the 7th century AD during the Asuka period. The dam is located on the Nishiyoke River and was built to control floods and provide water for irrigation purpose. The Sayamaike Dam has a length of 18.5 m and holds 2.8 million cubic m of water. The dam was renovated in 1996.

Manoike Dam, Japan

The Manoike Dam of Japan finds a place among the ten oldest dams in the world. It was built between 701 and 704 AD by Michimori Ason during the Taiho Era. The main purpose of building the dam was to ensure sufficient water is available for irrigation purposes. Although the original dam was largely destroyed by devastating floods in 881 AD, the dam was rebuilt. After a series of reconstructions over the centuries, the Manoike Dam continues to operate even today. The last reconstruction happened in 1959. Presently, the dam has a capacity of storing 15.4 million cubic m of water.

Sadd-e Kobar Dam, Iran

This dam exists in Iran on the Kobar River at a distance of about 28 km to the south-east of Qom. According to reports, the dam was established in the 10th century AD. The arch gravity dam was built with the purpose of facilitating irrigation and ensuring protection from floods. The dam has a height and length of about 25 m and 82 m, respectively.

Tonnur Kere / Moti Talab Dam, India

Located in the Mandya district of the Indian state of Karnataka, the Tonnur Kere is also one of the oldest operating dams in the world. According to accounts, it was constructed by a Sri Vaishnava saint named Saint Ramanujacharya. The dam was built in the 12th century. The lake resulting from the dam was named by Tipu Sultan as the Moti Talab or the ‘lake of pearls’. The dam has a height of around 230 m and a length of around 145 m. The water from the reservoir helps irrigate the nearby lands.

Almansa Dam, Spain

The Almansa Dam is considered to be the world’s 10th oldest dam. It is on the Vega de Belén River located in the Spanish province of Albacete near the Almansa town. According to sources, the dam was either built in the 14th or the 16th century. The dam has a height of 82 ft and length of 295 ft. The Almansa Dam’s reservoir can hold 1.6 million cubic m of water. It serves to provide water for irrigation and also control flooding.


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