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Open Channel Flow Measurement: Parshall

written by: Harlan Bengtson edited by: Lamar Stonecypher updated:
Parshall flumes are one of several types of open channel flow measurement devices. The
Parshall flume equations in this article are used for flow rate calculations with free flow
conditions in the flume. See also, dimensions for Parshall flumes and conditions for free flow
and submerged flow.
Parshall flumes are widely used for open channel flow measurement, especially for flows
containing suspended solids, as for example the flow in wastewater treatment plants. A
Parshall flume has a converging section, throat, and diverging section, somewhat like a
venturi flume. It also has prescribed variations in the channel bottom slope as shown in the
diagram in the next section. Parshall flume equations are available for flow rate calculations
based on a measured head, for a Parshall flume constructed with prescribed dimensions as
discussed in the next section.
Parshall Flume Configuration and Dimensions

The size of a Parshall flume is designated by its throat width. Dimensions are available for
Parshall flume throat widths from 1 inch to 50 ft. The 1 inch flume
will carry a flow of 0.03 cfs at 0.2 ft of head, while a 50 ft Parshall flume will carry 3,000 cfs
at a head of 5.7 ft. The diagram at the left shows the overall configuration of a Parshall flume.
The picture at the right shows a small Parshall flume in

operation for open channel flow measurement. Standard dimensions for Parshall flumes with
throat widths from 1 ft to 8 ft are shown in the table below the figure at the left.
Image Credit: Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company
For the range of throat widths in the table, the other dimensions in the diagram are constant at
the following values:
E = 3'-0", F = 2'-0", G = 3'-0", K = 3 inches, N = 9 inches, X = 2 inches, Y = 3 inches.
Free Flow and Submerged flow in a Parshall Flume

The flow through a Parshall flume is said to be free flow when the flow rate through the
throat of the flume is not affected by the downstream flow. When this is the case, a hydraulic
jump should be visible in the Parshall flume throat. If the downstream level is high enough so
that flow is backed up into the throat, the hydraulic jump isnt visible, and the flow is said to
be submerged flow. A quantitative criterion to differentiate between free flow and submerged
flow uses head measurements at two locations, H
and H
as shown in the diagram at the left.
That criterion for several ranges of throat width is summarized here:
For 1 < W < 3 : free flow for H
< 0.5; submerged flow for H
> 0.5
For 6 < W < 9 : free flow for H
< 0.6; submerged flow for H
> 0.6
For 1 < W < 8 : free flow for H
< 0.7; submerged flow for H
> 0.7
For 8 < W < 50 : free flow for H
< 0.8; submerged flow for H
> 0.8
The Parshall Flume Free Flow Equation
The Parshall flume free flow equation is Q = CH
, where Q is the flow rate through
the flume in cfs, H
is the head over the flume in ft
(measured at the point shown for H
in the diagram above), and C and n are constants for a
Parshall Flume of given throat width. Values for C and n are given in the table at the right for
selected throat widths ranging from 1 in to 50 ft.
Graphs and tables are available for determination of the flow rate through a Parshall flume
under submerged flow conditions.
Also for Excel spreadsheet templates that can be downloaded to make flow rate calculations
for Parshall flumes for both free flow and submerged conditions, with either U.S. or S.I.
units, see the article, "Excel Formulas for Calculations with Parshall Flume Equations."
Example Calculation
Problem Statement: Consider a 6 ft Parshall flume operating under free flow condition with
a head, H
= 3.5 ft. What is the flow rate through this Parshall flume?
Solution: For a Parshall flume with 6 ft throat width, C = 24.00 and n = 1.59, from the table
above. The Parshall flume free flow equation can then be used:
Q = CH
= (24)(3.5
) = 175.9 cfs
References for further information:
1. U.S. EPA, Recommended Practice for the Use of Parshall Flume and Palmer Bowlus
Flumes in Wastewater Treatment plants, EPA600/2-84-180, 1984.
2. Wahl, Tony L., Equations for Computing Submerged Flow in Parshall Flumes, Bureau of
Reclamation, Denver, Colorado, USA.
3. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Water Measurement Manual, 2001
revised, 1997 third edition.