Infographic: Global Reservoir Storage Capacity

The rate of storage expansion has slowed since the mid-20th century

Hoover Dam was not the first dam built in the United States, but the concrete wall across Boulder Canyon, on the Colorado River, was symbolic of an era.

As the graphic below shows, reservoir storage capacity in the United States expanded dramatically in the half-century following Hoover Dam’s completion in 1936. The reservoir behind the dam, Lake Mead, still is the largest man-made body of water in the United States.

Other countries soon followed this path. Reservoir expansion began to soar in the rest of the world roughly 20 years later, in the 1950s.

Water storage, which helps buffer society against seasonal and annual fluctuations in precipitation, remains a critical and controversial question, especially as countries seek to adapt to climate change by adding new reservoirs. Most of the prime spots have already been dammed, but new reservoirs are still being proposed.

Reservoirs are not the only remedy. Other storage options are gaining traction: changing the management of existing dams to reflect the changing nature of storms; storing water underground where it will not evaporate; trapping rainwater in cisterns, ponds, and other small catchments; and increasing the water-holding capacity of the soil.

Global reservoir storage capacity infographic dams united states china india australia Circle of Blue Kaye LaFond

Graphic © Kaye LaFond / Circle of Blue
The expansion of reservoir storage capacity soared for about 50 years in the United States, from the 1930s until the 1980s. Other countries began building dams several decades after the United States. Click image to enlarge.

Per Capita Capacity

The second graphic shows, by country, reservoir storage capacity per person. Canada and Russia have a large amount of storage compared to their populations. Most countries in Africa and South Asia do not.

country reservoir storage capacity per capita Circle of Blue Kaye LaFond

Graphic © Kaye LaFond / Circle of Blue
Reservoir storage capacity per capita. Click image to enlarge.

These graphics were made to accompany the article Water Storage a Critical Question for Climate Adaptation by Circle of Blue reporter Brett Walton. Contact Brett Walton or by @waltonwater on Twitter.

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