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Flow

Measurement Techniques in Open Channels







Irrigation Conveyance and Control
Field Exercise
CEE 6005
Utah State University
Logan, UT









Dane Hurst
September 29, 2014

Flow Measurement Techniques

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Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................................................................ 1
Procedure ..................................................................................................................................................................... 1
Float Method .......................................................................................................................................................... 2
Dye Method ............................................................................................................................................................ 2
Current Metering ................................................................................................................................................. 3
Observation Method ........................................................................................................................................... 4
Parshall Flume ...................................................................................................................................................... 4
Uniform Flow ......................................................................................................................................................... 5
Data Analysis .............................................................................................................................................................. 6
Float Method .......................................................................................................................................................... 6
Dye Method ............................................................................................................................................................ 7
Current Metering ................................................................................................................................................. 8
Observation Method ........................................................................................................................................... 9
Parshall Flume ...................................................................................................................................................... 9
Uniform Flow ...................................................................................................................................................... 11
Summary and Conclusions ................................................................................................................................ 12
References ................................................................................................................................................................ 13

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List of Figures
Figure 1. Canal used for measurement ........................................................................................................... 1
Figure 2. Float method ........................................................................................................................................... 2
Figure 3. Dye Method .............................................................................................................................................. 3
Figure 4. Current metering ................................................................................................................................... 4
Figure 5. Parshall Flume operating in freeflow ......................................................................................... 5
Figure 6. Transit used for slope measurement ............................................................................................ 6
Figure 7. Parshall flume diagrams ................................................................................................................. 10
Figure 8. Channel slope diagram .................................................................................................................... 12

List of Tables
Table 1. Float method trial times and velocities ......................................................................................... 6
Table 2. Float method calculated values ........................................................................................................ 7
Table 3. Dye method trial times and velocities ........................................................................................... 7
Table 4. Dye method calculated values ........................................................................................................... 7
Table 5. Current metering calculations ........................................................................................................... 8
Table 6. Velocity measurement at vertical walls ........................................................................................ 9
Table 7. Measured flume dimensions ........................................................................................................... 10
Table 8. Channel geometry for uniform flow ............................................................................................ 11
Table 9. Channel bed and water surface elevations ............................................................................... 12
Table 10. Summary of calculated flow rates .............................................................................................. 13

Flow Measurement Techniques

Introduction
Accurate flow measurement in open channels is of critical importance in several fields,
including irrigation. A number of methods are available and this lab exercise examines six
including: observation method, float method, dye method, Parshall Flume, uniform flow
and current metering. This report compares the techniques and accuracies of these
methods. Measurements were taken as a class effort on a section of canal near 200 E Center
Street in Logan, Utah on September 17, 2014. The canal is approximately rectangular in
cross section, is earthen and has a concrete sidewall on the left bank. The section where
measurements were taken is nearly straight and prismatic. A Parshall Flume is installed
upstream from the measurement locations.


Figure 1. Canal used for measurement

Procedure
The lecture notes prepared by Gary Merkley for Irrigation Conveyance and Control at Utah
State University are the primary source of information for these procedures.
The first three methods are considered velocityarea methods. These approximate the
flow rate by multiplying a measured velocity by the cross sectional area.

Flow Measurement Techniques

Float Method
The float method uses a floating object to find the surface velocity by timing it over a fixed
distance. A set of trials is used to find the average velocity. Since the surface velocity is the
highest anywhere in the channel, a correction coefficient is used which is a function of the
average channel depth. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has published a table of standard
values (1997). Despite this correction, errors of 20% have been reported for this method.


Figure 2. Float method

Figure 2 shows the float method procedure for this exercise. A prismatic section of channel
was chosen as the measuring site, sufficiently downstream of the flume to avoid effects of
that turbulence. A distance of 50 feet was measured along the sidewall. An apple was used
as a float (shown by the arrow) and was placed in the water upstream of the starting point;
this allowed the float to be at the stream velocity from the beginning. For each trial, the
float was timed over the measured reach. Seven trials were performed and the average
velocity used for calculating the flow. The cross sectional area of the channel was measured
at a representative section in the reach where the velocity measurements were taken.

Dye Method
Similar to the float method, the dye method uses a marker placed in the water and timing it
over a predefined distance to determine the velocity. A slug of bright colored, nontoxic
dye is injected upstream with a dropper and the time reported is the average of the
beginning and end of the slug passing the end mark. No correction factor is needed and this
method is more effective over shorter distances than the float method. A distance of 15 feet
was used for this exercise and seven trials were performed. The average of these times was

Flow Measurement Techniques

used for analysis. The cross sectional area of the channel at the measuring location was
used to find flow.


Figure 3. Dye Method

Current Metering
Current metering uses sophisticated equipment to measure the velocity at a number of
points throughout the channel, then each velocity is multiplied by a subarea, which values
are then summed for the total flow. With this method, measurements were taken at 60% of
the depth measured from the surface. This is generally accepted as the point of average
velocity in a shallow profile.
The velocity was measured with an electromagnetic current meter at one foot intervals
across a section of channel. A tag line was tied across the channel to provide a guide for
taking the measurements (as shown in Figure 4). The current meter was connected to a
measuring rod (for depth measurement) and directed upstream. Two readings were
recorded at each metering location and averaged for the velocity at that point. The channel
geometry was determined from the depth measurements at each location, which allowed
computation of the section area. The flow in each section was then calculated and totaled
for the channel flow rate.

Flow Measurement Techniques


Figure 4. Current metering

Observation Method
The observation method relies solely on the expertise of the engineer to visually determine
the flow. This method is highly unreliable and should never be used for analysis.

Parshall Flume
A Parshall Flume is a structure installed the channel to force the flow through critical
depth. Then, the upstream head can be correlated to the flow rate. Parshall flumes should
be sized according to standard sizes and installed according to specific requirements.
Otherwise, sitespecific 3dimennsional calibration must be performed for proper flow
measurement. Properly installed Parshall Flumes operating in freeflow conditions
typically have accuracies 5% and require lower headloss than other critical depth
measuring devices. Accuracy suffers when operating in submerged flow. In this case, an
additional downstream depth is required. For this exercise, the existing Parshall Flume was
inspected and measured for calibration.

Flow Measurement Techniques


Figure 5. Parshall Flume operating in freeflow

Figure 5 shows this flume operating in freeflow conditions.

Uniform Flow
Uniform flow theory assumes the flow is fully turbulent at that the flow is uniform; in other
words, flow conditions (depth, area and velocity) are the same everywhere throughout the
channel reach. Mannings Equation relates several variables (flow rate, flow depth, channel
geometry, slope and roughness) and can be used when making these assumptions. For this
exercise, a straight reach with approximately uniform conditions was chosen for
measurement. Channel geometry and flow depth were found using a tag line and
measuring rod. Slope was found using a transit and rod, and roughness was estimated
based on channel material (smooth large gravel). This allowed computation of flow rate.

Flow Measurement Techniques


Figure 6. Transit used for slope measurement

Data Analysis
Float Method
Table 1 shows the results of seven trials of the float method. The velocity was calculated
based on a travel distance of 50 feet. The average velocity was corrected using a factor of
0.66, as prescribed by the USBR for flow near 1 foot depth. The final velocity was 1.77 fps.
Table 1. Float method trial times and velocities

Trial
Time(s)
Velocity(fps)

1
19.5
2.56

2
19.8
2.53

3
20.2
2.48

4
17.9
2.79

5
6
7
17.9
17.3
18.5
2.79
2.89
2.70
CorrectedVelocity(fps)

Average
18.73
2.68
1.77


The cross sectional area used for analysis is the average of upstream and downstream
areas of the reach. The upstream width and depth were measured as 12.7 feet and 0.77
feet, respectively. At the downstream section, the width and depth were 11.7 feet and 0.72

Flow Measurement Techniques

feet. The average area is then 9.10 sf. The flow is the product of the average area and
corrected velocity, which is 16.1 cfs. Table 2 shows a summary of these values.
Table 2. Float method calculated values

Distance=
VelocityCorrection

50 ft
0.66

USArea=

9.78 ft2

DSArea=

8.42 ft2

AverageArea=
Flow=

9.10 ft2
16.1 cfs

Dye Method
A summary of seven trial runs for the dye method is given in Table 3. The beginning time is
measured as the time from injecting the dye until the first part of the plug passed the
ending point. The lapse time is the additional time for the plug to completely pass the end
mark. These values are then used to calculate an average time for the dye plug to travel the
marked distance. The velocity was calculated based on a distance of 15 feet. No velocity
correction is needed for the dye method. The final average velocity is 8.26 fps.
Table 3. Dye method trial times and velocities

Trial
TimeBeginning(s)
TimeLapse(s)
AverageTime(s)
Velocity(fps)

1
5.79
0.67
6.13
8.16

2
5.3
0.68
5.64
8.87

3
5.78
0.96
6.26
7.99

4
5.75
1.07
6.29
7.96

5
5.31
0.99
5.81
8.61

6
5.73
0.99
6.23
8.03

7
5.67
0.89
6.12
8.18

Average

6.07
8.26


As with the float method, upstream and downstream cross sectional areas were measured
and averaged. The upstream width and depth is 9.25 feet and 1.17 feet, respectively. The
downstream dimensions are 9.54 feet and 1.08 feet. The average cross sectional area used
for analysis is then 10.56 sf. The product of this area and the average velocity give a flow
rate of 87.2 cfs. These data are summarized in Table 4.
Table 4. Dye method calculated values

Distance=

15 ft

USArea=

10.79 ft2

DSArea=

10.34 ft2

AverageArea=
Flow=

10.56 ft2
87.2 cfs

Flow Measurement Techniques

Current Metering
Current metering was performed at a cross section with vertical walls at both banks. Table
5 shows the results of this process. A depth measurement and two velocity measurements
were taken at each station at increments of 1 foot. The average velocity at each station was
used to find the mean velocity in the subsection. A sub section is defined as half the
distance on either side of a station to the next station. The mean depth in each subsection
was calculated in the same manner, followed by area based on a width of 1 foot. The flow
rate was then calculated in each subsection as the product of mean area and mean velocity.
The sum of subsection flows is given as the total flow. For these data the total flow is 17.1
cfs.
Table 5. Current metering calculations

TagLine
Mark
(ft)

Depth
(ft)

3.0

0.60

4.0

0.65

5.0

0.65

6.0

0.70

7.0

0.70

8.0

0.70

9.0

0.70

10.0

0.80

11.0

0.75

12.0

0.70

13.0

0.80

14.0

0.50

14.5

0.50

Velocity(ft/s)
Meanin
Meaninthe
Vertical
Subsection
1.140

1.140
1.140

1.290
1.440

1.868
2.295

2.285
2.275

2.403
2.530

2.415
2.300

2.385
2.470

2.508
2.545

2.363
2.180

2.330
2.480

2.458
2.435

2.008
1.582

At
Point

1.110
1.17
1.430
1.450
2.250
2.340
2.270
2.280
2.510
2.550
2.310
2.290
2.480
2.460
2.570
2.520
2.200
2.160
2.440
2.520
2.440
2.430

Mean
Depth(ft)

Width
(ft)

Area
(ft2)

Flow
Rate
(ft3/s)

0.625

0.650

0.675

0.700

0.700

0.700

0.750

0.775

0.725

0.750

0.650

0.500

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

1.000

0.500

0.625

0.650

0.675

0.700

0.700

0.700

0.750

0.775

0.725

0.750

0.650

0.250

0.713

0.839

1.261

1.600

1.682

1.691

1.789

1.943

1.713

1.748

1.597

0.502

11.50

7.95

17.08

Totals:

Flow Measurement Techniques

Velocity cannot be measured accurately very near vertical walls, as is the case at both
banks of this measuring location. So, the velocity in such cases must be estimated from
velocities further from the wall. The distance x is measured from the wall to the next
station. The ratio of this distance to the flow depth at the wall, D, can be used to estimate
the velocity at the wall based on the velocity at distance x. This method is documented in
detail in Merkleys notes. This method is valid only when x/D<1. For the left wall in this
exercise, the nearest station is at a distance greater than the depth. So, flow at the wall was
estimated as 65% of the flow at the next station. At the right wall, x/D=1 so the method
dictates that velocity at that point is equal to velocity at the nearest station. These data are
summarized in Table 6.
Table 6. Velocity measurement at vertical walls

Left Wall

x= 0.00 D= 0.60 x/D= 0 Vx/VD= 0.65


Right Wall

x= 0.50 D= 0.50 x/D= 1 Vx/VD= 1.00

Observation Method
From observation, the flow was estimated to be 40 cfs.

Parshall Flume
Figure 7 shows standard schematics for Parshall flumes. The dimensions for each letter are
tabulated as standard values. Any Parshall flume installed should match all the dimensions
for a standard size.

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Figure 7. Parshall flume diagrams

Several values of the flume were measured, as summarized in Table 7. Parshall flumes are
classified based on the width of the throat section (W). The standard Parshall flume with
W=7.00 has dimensions other than those listed in this table. So, this is not a standard flume
and the standard calibration curves cannot be used. A more rigorous analysis using 3D
modeling is required for proper calibration.
Table 7. Measured flume dimensions

Dimension Value
A
10 2
B
7 9
C
8 0
W
7 0
hu
0.72

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Uniform Flow
The Manning Equation is

Where

1.49

The channel bed is composed of smooth gravel with vertical concrete walls and vegetated
banks. The roughness factor is dependent on the Reynolds number of the channel, so
standard and precise values are not tabulated. However, it seems that
0.030 is an
appropriate value (Finnemore & Franzini 2002).
The calculations for the area and hydraulic radius (A&R) values were based on the same
cross sections as used for the float method. The average flow depth is 0.74 ft and the
average width is 12.2 ft. This gives an area of 9.05 sf and wetted perimeter of 13.68 ft
(wetted perimeter is twice the depth plus width). This results in a hydraulic radius of 0.66
ft. These data are summarized in Table 8.
Table 8. Channel geometry for uniform flow

h=
L=

0.217 ft
50 ft

S= 0.00433 ft/ft

AverageWidth=
AverageDepth=

12.2 ft
0.74 ft

A= 9.05 ft2
P= 13.68 ft
R= 0.66 ft

The slope was calculated by finding the change in elevation between two stations 50 feet
apart in a uniform reach of the channel. At each station, the elevation was measured at the
midpoint and two sides of the channel. The average of these readings was used to calculate
the elevation difference. The change in elevation was 0.217 ft. Over a length of 50 feet, this
gives a slope of 0.00433. These data are summarized in Table 8 and Table 9.

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Table 9. Channel bed and water surface elevations

Benchmark: 5.435 ft
(47ftfromflume)
USSection(25'fromflumefoot)
DSStation(75'fromflume)
Width=
12.7
ft
Width= 11.7 ft

Point
9
2
8
Average

Reading
Reading
(Channel
(Channel Water
Bottom)
WaterDepth Point
Bottom) Depth
7.02
0.60
7
7.64
0.70
7.58
0.90
4
7.61
0.75
7.54
0.80
6
7.54
0.70
7.38
0.77 Average
7.60
0.72


Using these calculated values and applying Mannings Equation, the flow rate is 22.4 cfs.
Figure 8 shows a diagram of the channel slope and water surface elevation across the reach
used for analysis for this method.
0.00
Feetbelowbenchmark

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

0.50
1.00
1.50
2.00
2.50

Feetfromfootofflume
ChannelBed

WaterSurface

Figure 8. Channel slope diagram

Summary and Conclusions


The calculation of the flow rate in a reach of canal was attempted using six different
methods. The float method, dye method and current metering are velocityarea methods
which use the product of cross sectional area and average velocity to calculate flow. The
observation method relies on the experience of the engineer to visually judge the flow rate.
Uniform flow relates channel characteristics such as geometry, flow depth, roughness, and
slope to estimate flow. A Parshall flume is a critical depth measuring device, which relates

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head measurements to flow rate using a set of empirical calibrations. The results of these
six methods are summarized in Table 10.
Table 10. Summary of calculated flow rates

Method
Float Method
Dye Method
Current Metering
Observation Method
Parshall Flume
Uniform Flow

Calculated
Flow Rate (cfs)
16.1
87.2
17.1
40
N/A
22.4


The float method, current metering and uniform flow method gave reasonably close results
of 16.1 cfs, 17.1 cfs and 22.4 cfs, respectively. The dye method result of 87.2 cfs is very
dissimilar and should likely be discounted. The velocity measurements from this method
are unusually high, which may be the result of human error associated with manual time
keeping. Errors in time measurement are much more sensitive to shorter distances when
calculating velocity. The observation method result (40 cfs) is between the dye method and
other method, but still should not be relied upon because of its highly subjective nature.
Calculation of the flow rate using the Parshall flume was not attempted because it is a non
standard size and so requires 3dimennsional modeling for proper calibration.
Potential sources of error in this exercise include lapses in communication associated with
a collaborative effort and measurements taken too close to the flume, resulting in non
uniform flow.

References

Finnemore, E.J. & Franzini, J.B. 2002. Fluid Mechanics with Engineering Applications. Tenth Edition.
McGrawHill, New York.
Merkley, G.P.,2010. Irrigation Conveyence & Control: Flow Measurement and Structure Design
Lecture Notes.Utah State University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Logan, UT.
USBR. 1997. Water Measurement Manual. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Denver, CO. (also available
from Water Resources Publications, LLC, http://www.wrpllc.com/)