A dam constructed in a valley relies on the natural topography to provide most of the basin of the reservoir. Dams are typically located at a narrow part of a valley downstream of a natural basin. The valley sides act as natural walls, with the dam located at the narrowest practical point to provide strength and the lowest cost of construction. In many reservoir construction projects, people have to be moved and re-housed, historical artifacts moved or rare environments relocated. Examples include the temples of Abu Simbel (which were moved before the construction of the Aswan Dam to create Lake Nasser from the Nile in Egypt), the relocation of the village of Capel Celyn during the construction of Llyn Celyn, and the relocation of Borgo San Pietro of Petrella Salto during the construction of Lake Salto.
Construction of a reservoir in a valley will usually need the river to be diverted during part of the build, often through a temporary tunnel or by-pass channel.
In hilly regions, reservoirs are often constructed by enlarging existing lakes. Sometimes in such reservoirs, the new top water level exceeds the watershed height on one or more of the feeder streams such as at Llyn Clywedog in Mid Wales. In such cases additional side dams are required to contain the reservoir.
Where the topography is poorly suited to a single large reservoir, a number of smaller reservoirs may be constructed in a chain, as in the River Taff valley where the Llwyn-on, Cantref and Beacons Reservoirs form a chain up the valley.
Coastal reservoirs are fresh water storage reservoirs located on the sea coast near the river mouth to store the flood water of a river. As the land based reservoir construction is fraught with substantial land submergence, coastal reservoir is preferred economically and technically since it does not use scarce land area. Many coastal reservoirs were constructed in Asia and Europe. Saemanguem in South Korea, Marina Barrage in Singapore, Qingcaosha in China, and Plover Cove in Hong Kong, etc are few existing coastal reservoirs.
Aerial view of Plover Cove coastal reservoir.
Where water is pumped or siphoned from a river of variable quality or size, bank-side reservoirs may be built to store the water. Such reservoirs are usually formed partly by excavation and partly by building a complete encircling bund or embankment, which may exceed 6 km (4 miles) in circumference. Both the floor of the reservoir and the bund must have an impermeable lining or core: initially these were often made of puddled clay, but this has generally been superseded by the modern use of rolled clay. The water stored in such reservoirs may stay there for several months, during which time normal biological processes may substantially reduce many contaminants and almost eliminate any turbidity. The use of bank-side reservoirs also allows water abstraction to be stopped for some time, when the river is unacceptably polluted or when flow conditions are very low due to drought. The London water supply system is one example of the use of bank-side storage: the water is taken from the River Thames and River Lee; several large Thames-side reservoirs such as Queen Mary Reservoir can be seen along the approach to London Heathrow Airport.
Service reservoirs store fully treated potable water close to the point of distribution. Many service reservoirs are constructed as water towers, often as elevated structures on concrete pillars where the landscape is relatively flat. Other service reservoirs can be almost entirely underground, especially in more hilly or mountainous country. In the United Kingdom, Thames Water has many underground reservoirs, sometimes also called cisterns, built in the 1800s, most of which are lined with brick. A good example is the Honor Oak Reservoir in London, constructed between 1901 and 1909. When it was completed it was said to be the largest brick built underground reservoir in the world and it is still one of the largest in Europe. This reservoir now forms part of the southern extension of the Thames Water Ring Main. The top of the reservoir has been grassed over and is now used by the Aquarius Golf Club.
Service reservoirs perform several functions, including ensuring sufficient head of water in the water distribution system and providing water capacity to even out peak demand from consumers, enabling the treatment plant to run at optimum efficiency. Large service reservoirs can also be managed to reduce the cost of pumping, by refilling the reservoir at times of day when energy costs are low.