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The Differences Between Dams, Levees, and Dikes

Dams, levees, and dikes all play a critical role in flood prevention. While each of these structures offers similar functions, they are not the same and these terms should not be used interchangeably. Continue reading as we break down the differences between these structures.


Dams are man-made or beaver-made structures that run through or across bodies of water. Their main purpose is to create a barrier that holds back water, raising its level and resulting in a reservoir that can be used as a water supply or to generate electricity.

Dams have water on both sides, and the reservoirs they create can suppress floods, provide water for navigability, industrial purposes, irrigation, and human ingestion. They are used to constrain and make use of water flow across streams and rivers.


A cofferdam system is an inflatable, manmade dam that helps temporarily control the movement of water. Gentle on the environment, they keep one side of the structure dry through dewatering, damming, or diversion.

Beaver dams

Beaver dams, however, can disturb the natural water flow in a federal or state wildlife management area. In these situations, professionals (like those at Stan’s Airboat & Marsh) are called on to deconstruct the dams and position the water flow correctly so that it does not flood the surrounding area.


The purpose of a levee is to keep river banks from spilling over or to control the flow of ocean waves. Levees are typically earthen embankments that are designed to control, divert, or contain the flow of water to reduce flood risk.

Unlike dams, these man-made structures typically have water only on one side in order to protect the dry land on the other side. Unfortunately, as seen during Hurricane Katrina, levees can breach and flooding can occur when excess rainfall or melting snow causes water levels to rise. 

Levees are critical when it comes to protecting cities in low-lying areas. At Stan’s Airboat & Marsh Excavator Service, our mash excavators can easily access swamp and marsh land areas to construct levees for hurricane protection. 


Similar to levees, dikes are embankments with water on one side used to control flooding. These structures protect land that would otherwise be underwater the majority of the time. 

The original purpose of dikes was to reclaim land from the sea. The most famous dike system can be seen in the Netherlands, where over 25% of the country falls below sea level.

At Stan’s, our excavation contractors are highly skilled in working in the wettest, most difficult terrains of the swamp. For levee construction, dam removal, or marsh excavation, contact us today! We look forward to assisting you on your next job.

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