Norwegian Dams: a plea to consider them as national monuments.

More than 450,000 lakes, filled with up to 362 square kilometres of water.19
A 21,148 kilometre long, rugged coastline, full of fjords.18
Wild rivers with lengths up to 621 kilometres.17
It is an understatement that Norway is rich in water.

Not only there is there a lot of water, but the relationship between Norwegians and the water is as tight as Brits and their tea. This close connection to the water is visible in the formation of society’s water infrastructure. In particular, the building of dams. At every lake, river, or fjord that has the potential, a dam has been built.

 

[1]. Map of the many dams in Norway

A construction with Industrial, Archaeological Value

Historically, Norwegian dams were built to provide water for sawmills, mining, timber floating, ironworks, and ice production.12,13 The oldest existing dam in Norway dates back to the 17th century, built for the operation of the silver mines at Kongsberg.12,9 Without the dam on the River Lågen, there would not have been power for the stamp mill and smelter.9 Prosperous Kongsberg would have had a completely different history.

From Craftsmanship to a Complex Scientific Installation

Other functions have been applied to dams, such as recreation, power generation, flow control, and irrigation.12,13 Along with new functions came new materials, structures, and techniques. Well into the 18th century, dams were constructed of wood and stone, but brick dams gradually took over. Eventually, the design of dams was also influenced by fire safety and supervision requirements. As such, concrete was the main construction material for dams in the post war period.7,12,13

[2]. Timeline by exemplary pictures, from left to right: | stones – 1600s | wood – 1800s | brick – 1924 |concrete – 1953 | filling – 1986 |

No matter the century it is built in, a dam is a huge undertaking that requires a significant amount of knowledge. For wood and stone dams, true craftsmanship is required, and impressive engineering is required for concrete and filling dams.

[3]. Building a dam in the 1950s – a huge task

Architecture in the Middle of Nature

Dams also hold an aesthetic value. Cities and villages are often organised around water, wherein the dam functions as a central point.12  The way a dam is built depends on the topography of the site, geology, available technology, and building materials.12 This results in a wide range in the typology of dams. Despite the diversity of scale, material and appearance, they all appear as an architectural line through the versatile, Norwegian landscape.3

[4]. One of the purposes of a dam in the 1940s – children enjoying the water

[5]. Drawing of Haugsjå dam, Nedstrøms – an insertion in the landscape

Some dams have a bold look, while others appear as romantic gestures in the landscape. Whether a deliberate design or as a result of surrounding factors, all dams have a specific aesthetic value. As such, some dams have become unlikely tourist attractions. 

[6]. A small overview of Norwegian dams – architecturally designed industrial structures

A Bit More Nuance

Before drawing conclusions about these massive and diverse infrastructures, it is important to make some other points. The, seemingly, massive drive to build new dams in Norway is not always positive.

Even though dams provide hydropower by harnessing renewable  energy, they disturb the environments they are placed in.4,11

The building of dams does not only effect ecosystems. There have been several cases where people have been displaced for the sake of a dam. In the 1970s, there was a conflict, named the Alta controversy, where the Norwegian government decided to construct a hydroelectric power plant in the Alta River in Finmark. This required the relocation of Sami people from their ancestral territory. There were many demonstrations by Sami activists and allies, at the construction site itself and outside of the Norwegian parliament. With slogans such as Elva skal leve” (“Let the river live”), they argued to not disturb the river. The protesters were forcibly removed by police and the army, the river was dammed, and the Sami people were forced off their land. This is, unfortunately, one of many examples where large infrastructure projects have been prioritized over people and territories. Over one hundred power projects have now been constructed in Sami territory.1,15,16

[7]. & [8]. Sami protests against Alta-Kautokeino power plant – on construction site – in front of parliament

Dams are also dangerous. Although Reidar Birkeland, the watercourse technical manager at Statkraft, ensures that Norway has perhaps the most stringent regulations on dam safety in the world” and, that Norway has very solid experience and high expertise”, it is a reality that accidents happen. The huge reservoirs are a potential threat to nearby residents. On May 27, 1791, the Kobberdammen in Trondheim burst and took the life of 22 people. More recently, in the 1970s, Norway had two major dam accidents. One took place in Vestre Gausdal with the Roppadammen and the other occurred at Storvatn in Sør-Varange. Although there was no loss of life, they reveal the inherent threat of dams.

Climate change will only increase the risk of dam accidents in the coming years. The importance of close monitoring and caretaking of Norwegian dams cannot be underlined enough.10,14

[9]. Burst of Roppadammen, Vestre Gausdal – 1976

A National Symbol of Norway

According to a heritage law from 1988, a monument can be defined as a relic of art, culture, architecture or craftsmanship considered to be of public interest because of its historical, folklore, artistic, scientific, industrial archaeological or other socio-cultural value.”2,5,6 It is clear that Norwegian dams deserves this title. They are a mark of Norwegiansactivity in the landscape, exposing their relation to the wild and robust nature. The significant amount of dams proves the national interest in mastering water. Once a dam is built, it is costly, inconvenient, and especially difficult to remove.12 This is another reason to define them as monuments. This recognition as a national symbol, with a higher cultural and historical value, implies a change in the way they are appreciated and taken-care of.5,8 By stopping the building of new dams, there might be a renewed focus on the protection and maintenance of existing ones, resulting in a new national pride for the infrastructure.

Maybe, one day, we will send other postcards home.

[10]. New Norwegian postcard proposal

Bibliography:
1. Andersen, Svein S., Atle Midttun, and Svein Andersen. “Conflict and Local Mobilization: The Alta Hydropower Project”. Acta Sociologica 28, no. 4 (1985). http://www.jstor.org/stable/4194584.
2. De erfgoedstem. "Definitie 'Monument'". Accessed November 10, 2021. https://erfgoedstem.nl/monument/. 
3. Hillestad, Knut Ove. Vannkraft Og Landskap. Oslo: Norges Vassdrags- Og Energiverk, 1992.
4. Hveding, Vidkunn, and Norges Tekniske Høgskole Institutt for Vassbygging. Vannkraft I Norge. Trondheim: Universitetet I Trondheim, Norges Tekniske Høgskole, Institutt for Vassbygging, 1992. 
5. ICOMOS. "Introducing ICOMOS". Accessed October 17, 2021. https://www.icomos.org/en/about-icomos/mission-and-vision/mission-and-vision.
6. InfoNu!. "Monumenten en hun bescherming". Accessed October 17, 2021. https://kunst-en-cultuur.infonu.nl/geschiedenis/73435-monumenten-en-hun-bescherming.html. 
7. International waterpower & dam construction: Thomas Konow. "Taking stock of Norway's dams". Accessed October 25, 2021. https://www.waterpowermagazine.com/features/featuretaking-stock-of-norway-s-dams/.
8. M. Špano, K. Osičková, M. Dzuráková, D. Honek & R. Klepárníková. "The Application of Cluster Analysis and Scaling Analysis Methods for the Assessment of Dams in Terms of Heritage Preservation". International Journal of Architectural Heritage, March (2021). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15583058.2021.1899338.
9. Nathalie Brandes. "The famous silver mines of Kongsberg, Norway". Accessed October 6, 2021. https://www.mindat.org/article.php/2907/The+Famous+Silver+Mines+of+Kongsberg%2C+Norway. 
10. NK Nyheter. "This dam is most vulnerable to climate change in Norway". Accessed October 16, 2021. https://www.nrk.no/norge/nve_-625-dammer-i-norge-er-sarbare-for-klimaendringer-1.15507770.
11. Norwegian Waterways and Electricity Service (NVE). Vannkraft i Norge, informasjon fra NVE. Oslo: NVE, 1981.
12. NVE. Dammer som kulturminner (Rapport nr. 64 - 2013). Oslo: NVE, 2011.
13. NVE. "Ponds and watercourses - definitions". Accessed October 16, 2021. https://www.nve.no/energi/tilsyn/damsikkerhet/dammer-og-vassdragsanlegg-definisjoner/.
14. NVE. "Supervision of dams". Accessed October 17, 2021. https://www.nve.no/supervision-of-dams/.
15. Øystein Dalland. "The Alta case: Learning from the errors made in a human ecological conflict in Norway". Geoforum 14, no. 2 (1983). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0016718583900179.
16. Svein Lund. "The nature of Finnmark between traditional use, international capital and central political power". Accessed October 26, 2021. http://sveinlund.info/miljo/gargia-e.ht.
17. Wikipedia. "Glomma". Accessed October 5, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glomma.
18. Wikipedia. "Noorwegen". Accessed October 5, 2021. https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noorwegen.
19. World Atlas. "The 10 largest lakes in Norway". Accessed October 5, 2021. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-10-largest-lakes-in-norway.html.
Images:
[Featured image]. [10]. Gol bygdearkiv. "Oslo Lysverker. Kraftutbygginga. Dam Brekkefoss, Hemsedal". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/011012709719/oslo-lysverker-kraftutbygginga-dam-brekkefoss-hemsedal. Picture edited by author.
[1]. NVE. "NVE Atlas - Vannkraft". Accessed October 16, 2021. https://atlas.nve.no/Html5Viewer/index.html?viewer=nveatlas#.
[2]. (a). NVE. Dammer som kulturminner (Rapport nr. 64 - 2013). Oslo: NVE, 2011.
[2]. (b). NVE. Dammer som kulturminner (Rapport nr. 64 - 2013). Oslo: NVE, 2011.
[2]. (c). Marcus: Spesialsamlingene ved Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen. "Grimsosdammen". Accessed November 9, 2021. https://marcus.uib.no/instance/photograph/ubb-bs-fol-00297-004c.html.
[2]. (d). NVE. Dammer som kulturminner (Rapport nr. 64 - 2013). Oslo: NVE, 2011.
[2]. (e). NVE. "Oddatjørn". Acccessed November 9, 2021. https://www.nve.no/om-nve/nves-utvalgte-kulturminner/dammer/oddatjorn/.
[3]. Lands Museum. "Svartvatnet?". Accessed November 6, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/021018398521/svartvatnet.
[4]. Stiftelsen Domkirkeodden. "Gruppe barn bader i Kvennveita ved demning, Brumunddal, Ringsaker"Accessed November 6, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/011012756945/gruppe-barn-bader-i-kvennveita-ved-demning-brumunddal-ringsaker.
[5]. Drawing by author.
[6]. (1a). Oslo City Archives. "From Jæringsdammen. The lood water run". Accessed November 8, 2021. http://www.oslobilder.no/BAR/A-10010/Ua/0001/112.
[6]. (1b). Oslo City Archives. "Maridalsdammen, seen from below, Dammen closed. 16 April 1908". Accessed November 8, 2021. http://www.oslobilder.no/BAR/A-10010/Ua/0001/004.
[6]. (1c). Anno Norsk skogmuseum: Løken, Bård. "Altademningen.". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/021017279934/altademningen-altadammen-ved-utlopet-av-virdnejavri-her-har-elva-dannet.
[6]. (1d). Oslo Museum. "The waterfall at Brekke saw". Accessed November 8, 2021. http://www.oslobilder.no/OMU/OB.Z01002.
[6]. (2a). Oslo City Archives. "Haklodam". Accessed November 8, 2021. http://www.oslobilder.no/BAR/A-10010/Ua/0001/192.
[6]. (2b). Oslo Museum. "Holmendammen". Accessed November 8, 2021. http://www.oslobilder.no/OMU/OB.Y1048.
[6]. (2c). Norwegian Folkmuseum. "River with waterfall and dam". Accessed November 8, 2021. http://www.oslobilder.no/NF/NF.21429-232.
[6]. (2d). Romsdalsmuseet: Jon Bjordal. "Hunderfossen.."Lillehammer 01.06.1964".". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/011012698407/hunderfossen-lillehammer-01-06-1964.
[6]. (3a). Norsk Folkemuseum: Wilse, Anders Beer. "Prot: Gregersen, Ing". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/021018744192/prot-gregersen-ing.
[6]. (3b). Oslo City Archives. "Bjørnsjødammen". Accessed November 8, 2021. http://www.oslobilder.no/BAR/A-10010/Ua/0001/126.
[6]. (3c). Anno Musea i Nord-Østerdalen. "Demning". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/021017755617/demning.
[6]. (3d). Anno Musea i Nord-Østerdalen. "Bygging av demning Innerdalen". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/021018626723/bygging-av-demning-innerdalen.
[6]. (4a). Anno Norsk skogmuseum. "Den gamle dam hadde 16 luker og 2 naaleløp.". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/021015579182/den-gamle-dam-hadde-16-luker-og-2-naalelop.
[6]. (4b). Haugalandmuseet. "Landskap - Demning.". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/021015476248/landskap-demning.
[6]. (4c). Gol bygdearkiv. "Oslo Lysverker. Dam." Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/011012710885/oslo-lysverker-dam.
[6]. (4d). NVE. Dammer som kulturminner (Rapport nr. 64 - 2013). Oslo: NVE, 2011.
[7]. Wikipedia. "Alta controversy". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alta_controversy.
[8]. Svein Lund. "The nature of Finnmark between traditional use, international capital and central political power". Accessed October 26, 2021. http://sveinlund.info/miljo/gargia-e.ht.
[9]. NVE. Dammer som kulturminner (Rapport nr. 64 - 2013). Oslo: NVE, 2011.
[10]. Gol bygdearkiv. "Oslo Lysverker. Kraftutbygginga. Dam Brekkefoss, Hemsedal". Accessed November 8, 2021. https://digitaltmuseum.no/011012709719/oslo-lysverker-kraftutbygginga-dam-brekkefoss-hemsedal. Picture edited by author.