You are on page 1of 14



2.1 General
Flood is considered as unusually high stage of the river. It is perhaps better
described as that stage at which the stream channel gets filled and above which it
overflows its bank. An annual peakflow is known as the largest instantaneous
flow in any given year. Flow adopted for the design purposes is defined as desiga
flow. It may be a corresponding to some desired frequency of occurrence
depending upon the standard of security that should be provided against failure of
a structure.

Several methods are currently available for the estimation of peakflow rate,
but many of these have different kind of limitations in practice according to their
nature. In Engineering, the most widely used method for estimating a peak flood
of a certain probability is the rational formula.. But it is not clear whether She imit
hydrograph or whether any variations of regional flood frequency occupies
second place (Linsley, 1986). Other than those methods the Curve Number
method is also common in practice. Statistical methods are applicable where there
are long period of historical flows. Regional flood transposition is a method by
which the estimation of peak floods and design floods can be made in ungauged
watersheds by extrapolation.

Peakflow of ungauged watersheds estimated different ways. When flow data

of an adjacent basin, or of a similar basin or of the same region are available then
such flow data can be used to estimate the peakflow. In the absence of flow data,
mere are methods to use rainfall as an input to obtain flow records. This also
could be done either statistically or using various types of rainfall - runoff modeSs.

Textbooks and journals in the field of Hydrology carry a plenty of

publications presenting different kind of methods for peakflow estimation.
However literature indicating the applicability of such methods to Sri Lankaai
conditions are scarce.

2.2 Methods of Peakflow Estimation

2.2.1 Statistical methods (Frequency Analysis)

This is a method'to predict the future probability of occurrences by using past

records of events. If stream gauging records of sufficient length are available, an
analysis of the historic flood frequency is a reliable tool for estimating likelihood
of future floods. But in most cases however, records extend over short lengths of

time and contain relatively few events. The analysis with such data is not
representative of long term behaviour.

Studies by Central Water Commission, India show that 33 to 40 years o f

records is necessary to predict a 100 year flood and 80 to 90 years of records are
needed to predict a 250 years flood (Sharma & Sharma, 1977).

Various theoretical and empirical distributions have been proposed as beir.g

generally applicable to the annual series. The more useful amongst those w h i c h
have been proposed include the following.

i. The two parameter Log-normal distribution

ii. The Gumbel or Extreme value type I distribution and Log-gumble or

Extreme value Type n distribution

iii. The Log-pearson type HI distribution

The first two distributions involve only two parameters, and special graph
papers have been derived for them, so that any distribution of that type plots as a
straight line on the graph paper for that distribution.

The Gumbel distribution is a theoretical asymptotic distribution of extreme

values in a given interval of a process with an exponential distribution. The log-
gumbel distribution was found to give the best fit to the relatively short stream
flow data available.

The log-pearson type m distribution has been recommended by the US Water

Resources Council as the basic method for flood frequency analysis. This
distribution has been found to provide a good fit for many annual flood series.
The two-parameter log-normal distribution is a special case of the log-pearson
type DI distribution (TEA, 1977).

2.2.2 Regional Flood Frequency Analysis

The regional flood frequency analysis is adopted for the catchments where
streamflow data are not available or the length of records is too short. The
regional flood frequency analysis makes use of the available data of streams in
statistical homogeneous regions. In such a region, the point data analyses are
averaged to represent the frequency characteristics of the entire region. In the
Analysis, mean annual flood which corresponds to a recurrence interval of 2.33
years is used for developing basic dimensionless frequency curve. Also tile
variation of mean flood, Q m with drainage area and variation Qr/Qm w&n
recurrence interval T are plotted. The combination of mean annual flood w i t h t h e

basic frequency curve which is in terms o f the mean annual flood give a
frequency for any section.

When the regional flood frequency curves are employed for assessing flood o f
an ungauged catchment, a correlation is established graphically by plotting mean
annual floods against respective catchment areas o f all gauged stations in the area
o f logarithmic paper. This relation is then used to obtain the mean annual flood
for ungauged catchment. The flood for ungauged catchment for a given frequency
is determined by computing the corresponding flood ratio from the regional
frequency curve for region and multiplying it by the mean annual flood o f the
ungauged catchment (Sharma and Sharma 1976, W M O 1 9 8 9 ) .

2 . 2 . 3 Envelop curves

Envelop curves are based on the theory that ths maximum flood per hectare
experienced in one basin is quite likely to be experienced in a nearby b a s k in the
same region and possessing similar characteristics.

In this method the available flood peak data from a large number o f
catchments which do not significantly differ from each other in terms o f
meteorological and topographical characteristics are collected. The data are then
plotted on a log-log paper as flood peak V s catchment area. This would result in a
plot in which the data would be scattered. If an enveloping curve mat would
encompasses all the plotted data is drawn, it can be used to obtain maximum peak
discharges for any given area. These curves are useful in getting quick but rough
estimations o f peak values (Subramanya 1984). Sharma and Sharma (1976), cites
two different kinds of envelope curves developed by (1) Justin, Creager and
Hinds and ( 2 ) Bird and Mailluraith. Both relate the discharge fo the drainage area
using exponents obtained empirically. The first one is derived for basins with
comparable drainage characteristics, and the second one is called the worid
enveloping flood.

2 . 2 . 4 Flood Transposition and other Empirical formulae

In regions having same climatic and topographical characteristics, if the

available flood data are meagre, the flood transposition can be used to generate a
series o f annual maximum peakflows using regional gauged catchment The
advantage of using Flood Transposition equation is that the computation o f design
flows could be done by directly using flow records. In other methods rainfall and
other parameters are used to estimate flow records. Also most rainfall - runoff
models require time consuming field data collection. Most o f the flood
transposition formulae assume that the area is the key factor influencing the
peakflows. Hence the relationship is o f the type o f Q = C A . Where n is aa

There are vast numbers of formulae of this kind proposed for various parts of
the world; Several types of empirical relationships have been established based on
the catchment properties mainly the basin area but in some cases rainfall
characteristics, basin characteristics and flood frequency. Since these formulae
refer invariably to particular physical and climatic conditions these are safely
applicable to the areas or regions where the same were developed. A summary o f
various empirical formulae in literature is as follows. The most widely used
formulae in South India are the R y v e ' s formula and the Dicken's formula.

273 3/4
i. Ryve's Formulae, Q = C A and Dicken's formula, Q = C A , when Q is
the maximum flood discharge in cumecs, A is the catchment area in km2
and C is a coefficient varying from place to place depending upon the
rainfall pattern of the zones in which the catchment is situated (Murthi,

ii. Inglis Formula (Murthi 1977)

5 2
Q = 123A / (A + 10.4) , Q in cumecs and A in k m

ii. Madras Formulae (Sharma and Sharma, 1976)

( 8 9 ( 1 / I 5 1 0 8A ) 2
Q = 2000A • > , Q in cumecs and A in k m

v. Hydrabad Formulae (Murthi, 1977)

( 0 9 2 ( 1 / 1 4 ) , o 8 A 2
Q = cA - ' , Q in cumecs and A in k m
Value o f C taken from 48 to 60. This formula has been developed mainly
for catchments of Deccan River in India.

vi. Farmings Formula (Murthi, 1977)

3 / 6 , 2
Q = CA Q in cumecs and C in k m
Where value o f C is taken as 2.54

There are some other formulae which are involving not only basin area but
also the other basin characteristics. The Rational formula, discussed
earlier, is one such formula dealing with intensity o f rainfall, slope o f the
catchment and land use etc. T w o other formulae found in literature
involving some other catchment characteristics with drainage area are as
follows, the first one is involved with the length of the catchment and the
next is related to the altitude of the catchment and percentage area o f the

( 2 / 3 )
vi. Q = CA / L (Sharma and Sharma, 1976)
Where C: Constant, L: Average length o f the area and A: Drainage area

124 0 9 5 1 7
.vii. Q = ( . 0 0 0 0 3 6 h + 124) A / r (Subramanya, 1984)
Where h: median altitude o f the basin in ft above the outlet, r: percentage
of lake, pond and reservoir area

2.2/5 Unit H y d r o g r a p h M e t h o d s

The unit hydrograph is a simple linear model, said to be first proposed by

Sharmen in 1932, which can be used t o derive the hydrograph resulting from any
amount o f excess rainfall. This is a hypothetical hydrograph o f a basin due to a
flood o f unit surface runoff in a given time. Three types o f different approaches
for peakflow estimation using unit hydrograph principles are the Snyders unit
hydrograph, SCS dimensionless hydrographs, and instantaneous hydrograph.
Among the different key parameters used in hydrograph analysis the time o f
concentration is considered as the most important one.

Time o f Concentration is generally estimated by means o f empirical formulae.

One o f the most common formulae often used in the world was derived by
Kirpich based on data from rural agricultural drainage basins (Maidment, 1993).
Ponrajah recommended the use o f velocity estimates for determining the time o f
concentration for the Sri Lankan catchments (ID, 1984).

In theory, the principle of the unit hydrograph is applicable to basin o f any

size. However, in practice, to meet the basic assumptions it is essential to use
storms uniformly distributed over the basin and producing rainfall excess (direct
runoff) at a uniform rate. Such storms rarely occur on large areas. The method is
said to be less accurate for small areas below 25 square kilometres (Sharma and
Sharma, 1976). Snyder's Synthetic Unit H y d r o g r a p h

Synthetic Unit hydrograph is a hydrograph developed on the basis o f

estimation o f coefficients expressing various physical features o f a catchment.
Synthetic unit hydrograph is developed based on known physical characteristics
o f the basin, where adequate rainfall data are lacking. Snyder in 1938 has found
various relationships between catchment parameters to derive a standard
hydrograph (Sharma and Sharma, 1976). S C S Dimensionless H y d r o g r a p h

The dimensionless unit hydrograph used by soil conservation service (1972)

was developed by Mackus (1957). It was derived from a large number o f natural
unit hydrographs from drainage basins varying widely in size and geographical
locations. The shape o f this dimensionless unit hydrograph predetermines the time
distribution o f the runoff; time expressed in units o f time to peak, and runoff rates
are expressed in units of peak runoff rate (Ritzema, 1994).

2-5 Instantaneous Unit H y d r o g r a p h

The instantaneous unit hydrograph (IUH) is a runoff hydrograph o f resulting

from instantaneous application o f rainfall e x c e s s ' volume o f 1 c m spread
uniformly in the drainage area and is expressed u (0, t) or U (t). The merit o f f U H
over a unit hydrograph is that the former is independent o f duration o f rainfall
excess, thereby resulting in elimination o f one variable in the hydrograph analysis
(Sharma and Sharma, 1976).

2.2.4* Curve N u m b e r M e t h o d ( S C S M e t h o d )

For a drainage basin where no runoff has been measured, the curve number
method can be used to estimate the depth o f direct runoff from the rainfall depth,
given an index describing runoff response characteristics. Runoff (Q)
computations are carried out by using SCS formulae and a curve number. Curve
number depends on the antecedent wetness o f the watershed, soil, land cover and
the hydrologic conditions. The antecedent moisture condition refers to three
classes o f antecedent moisture conditions ( A M C ) namely dry, average, and w e t
Hydrologic conditions are related to whether vegetation is dense and in good
condition, and also whether soil is rich in organic matter and has a well
aggregated structure. The hydrologic condition identifies the watershed capacity
to result in high infiltration and l o w runoff.

The Curve Number method was originally developed by the Soil Conservation
Service in 1 9 6 4 for conditions prevailing in the United States. Since then it has
been adopted to conditions in other parts o f the world. Although some regional
research centres have developed additional criteria, the basic concept is still
widely used all over the world.

2.2.7 Rational F o r m u l a

The relationship between rainfall and peak runoff has been represented b y
many empirical or semi-empirical formulae. The Rational formula is one such
formula, which is considered as one o f the most common hydrologic methods for
computing peak discharge. Although this formula is based o n a number o f
assumptions, which cannot be readily satisfied under actual circumstances, it is
very popular because o f its simplicity. Generally the formula can be written as Q
= RCIA. The parameter relates the peak flow to the Rainfall Intensity, Return
period, Runoff coefficient o f the watershed and the watershed area (JEA, 1977).
The coefficient o f runoff has been related to the catchment slope and coefficient
of runoff o f Sri Lankan catchments are in Table 2.1 (Ponrajah, 1984).

Table 2 . 1 : Catchment Slopes and Corresponding R u n o f f Coefficients in
Rational M e t h o d

Catchment Slope Runoff coefficient

0to2 0.3
2to4 0.4
= >4 0.5

Time o f concentration for small watersheds and irrigation works are given by
Ponrajah (1984). In his work he has computed time o f concentration as a factor o f
travel length, average velocity and inlet time. Table 2.2 shows some typical
values (ID, 1984).

Table 2.2: Average Gradient of Stream and Corresponding A v e r a g e Velocity

in Rational Method

Average Gradient of Stream Average Velocity (ft/s)

Otol 1.5
lto2 2.0
2to4 3.0
4 to 6 4.0
>6 5.0

Rational formula is said to be a convenient and a reliable f e r u l a for small

watersheds up to 1000 acres. Rational formula gives too high estimates o f peak
flow values for large watersheds (Batuwitage et al., 1985).

2.2.8 Multiple Regression M e t h o d s

Multiple regression methods are also used to estimate peakflow from

ungauged watersheds. In this method the key factors influencing peakflows are
combined to an equation to find the regression coefficients. If a lengthy data set o f
annual peak flows are available then the annual average peakflow or return period
flow for specified return period is regressed to obtain an equation. Usually these
are done for regions and the regression equations are o f the following type; Q = c
a b C
Xi X 2 X . Q could be either the mean annul peak or a return period peak and

Xi* etc are factors controlling the flood peak.

All such formulae include basin area as a factor and most contain some index
o f rainfall intensity and frequency, in addition to differing measures o f several
morphometric characteristics. Chorley (1985) cited following examples for
regression equations.

Q* 10
-_ a„ Aj
A 0 . 1 7 TT-0.55 T> 0 9 3 o 0.45
(Region: Allegheny-Cumberland Plateau)
7 2 4 2 0 2 9
qV^bV-'V ? - ^- -
(Region: Appalachian Plateau)

0 7 7 2 9 2 0 8 1
Q . =dA ' R ' D '
2 3 3

(Region: United Kingdom)

Q 10 = peak discharge (cusec/acre) for a ten year recurrence interval
Q2.33 = peak discharge (cusec) m the mean annual Hood
Ai ~ basin area (acres)
P = rainfall intensity factor
T = topography factor
S - rainfall frequency factor
t - topography factor
A = basin area
S = main channel slope (ft/mile)
R = mean annual daily maximum rainfall (in)
D = drainage density (miles/ square mile)

University College, Gaiway (1985) cited a case study done for 57 catchments and
computed regressions for the region and also for urban watersheds. ( C u r a r e ,
1985). Regression equations cited is

0 94 0 28 0 1 6 1 2 1 103 0 6 0 4 7
Qmean - c A ' STEMFEQ ' SI Soil R LAKE" '* URBAN

A = area in k m
STKMFQ = stream frequency
SI - overland slope
Soil = index for Soil/ Geology
R ='- average annual rainfall
LAKE = i&dex for catchment storage

i f U R B A N is omitted the coefficients vary insignificantly to 0.94, 0.27, 0.15,

1.23, 1.03 a i d -0.85 respectively.

Since these multiple regressions are done usually for return period based floods or
rnei». annual peak floods this method may s o t be &at advantageous to transpose
peak floods to obtain return period floods for design purposes.

2.3 Accuracy of Peakflow Estimation Using Different Methods
When hydrologists are asked about the accuracy of their estimated flood
peaks, the most frequent response is that they lie within 20%. However a few
optimists will say that the accuracy is 10% and the pessimists may say 30%.
Almost all responses indicate that such errors are "acceptable" (Linsley, 1986).

A Study done to determine the applicability of flood estimation methods to Sri

Lankan catchments by considering 16 catchments in Sri Lanka, the accuracy of
those methods is concluded as follows (Batuwitage et al, 1986).

i. The method chosen for the determination of the time of concentration is vital,
and has considerable effects on the design flood.

ii. Estimated design floods from Snyder's techniques tends to give higher values
than those obtained by statistical methods.

iii. US Soil Conservation Service method usually gives higher or the highest
values for the design floods as the catchment area increases. Even for small
catchments generally the estimated floods are considerably higher than the
values obtain by statistical methods.

This study provides the peak flow estimates from different methods for

A hydrological study of the Colombo Harbour and its watersheds indicated

that four of the models used for peak flow estimation show consistency in the case
of small watersheds but estimates made using Snyder's Unit Hydrograph Method
appear to deviate in case of larger watersheds. Snyder's method, Rational formula,
HEC 1 flood model and SCS hydrograph method were the methods used for this
study (Wijesekera, 2000).

2 . 4 Factors affecting Peakfbw

The peak flow of a basin is affected by many factors. All these factors are
mostly related to one another. There are difficulties in quantifying some of the
factors such as vegetation and land use, while in many cases measurement of
others such as infiltration rates, rain fall intensities are simply not available.
Often only other materials that can be obtained, other than river flow records are
those such as slopes, area etc that can be derived from maps. The factors affecting
flood peaks can be grouped mainly in two categories as climatic factors and
catchment characteristics.
2.4.1 Climatic Factors

The main effect o f climate on peak flow is in rainfall intensity and duration.
Rainfall intensity has a direct bearing on runoff because when the infiltration
capacity is exceeded all the excess rain flows to the surface watercourses. Since
intensity represents rainfall over a particular time, it cannot be considered
separately from duration. Rainfall Intensity

Rainfall intensity influences both the rate and the volume o f runoff. An
intense storm exceeds the infiltration capacity by a greater margin man a gentle
rain, thus the total volume o f runoff is greater for the intense storm than a gentle
storm even though total precipitation for the two rains is the same. Rainfall
intensity is one o f the major considerations when calculating peak flow using
rational formula and unit hydrograph method. Estimation o f rainfall intensity is
usually done using rainfall intensity-frequency-duration curves for specified
recurrence interval and duration. Duration of Rainfall

Total runoff from a storm is clearly related to the duration for a given
intensity. A storm o f short duration may produce lower runoff, whereas a storm o f
the same intensity but o f long duration will result in higher runoff. Uniform -
intensity storm causes the hydrograph of stream rise. Such storms may be defined
as covering the whole catchment area, over which the depth o f rainfall is
reasonably constant and delivered at a constant rate. After a certain time, T c (time
o f concentration), the rate o f runoff becomes constant. The runoff at this point is
the peak flow and to obtain the peak for a particular basin the duration o f rainfall
should not be less than the time o f concentration. Distribution of Rainfall

Rate and volume o f runoff are influenced by the distribution o f rainfall and its
intensity over the watershed. Generally maximum rate and volume o f runoff
occurs when the entire watershed contributes. However, an intense storm on one
portion o f the catchment may result in greater runoff than a moderate storm over
the entire watershed. Therefore the distribution of rainfall would also influence
the peak flow from a watershed.

2-10 Direction of Storm M o v e m e n t

The prevailing winds and storm movement usually have a particular seasonal
pattern. The direction in which the storm centre moves across a basin with
respect to the direction o f flow o f the drainage system has pronounced effect on
the peak flow and the period of surface runoff. A storm moving in the direction o f
a stream produces higer peaks in a shorter period than a storm moving upstream.

2.4.2 Catchment Characteristics

It is appropriate to consider how various characteristics o f the catchment

affect the rate and quantity of discharge from i t B y 'catchment' is meant the
whole of the land and water surfaces area contributing to the discharge at a
particular stream or river cross section, from which it is clear that every point on a
stream channel has a unique catchment o f its own, the size o f the catchment
increasing as the control point moves down stream, reaching its maximum size
when the control is at the sea cost. At this point the catchment is called as river

The hydrologic behaviour o f a catchment depends on certain characteristics o f

the drainage area. The characteristics are generally related to the physical
drainage basin or to the channel. The physical characteristics o f a catchment are
the drainage area, its shape, slope, drainage density, mean elevation and land use
etc. Basin A r e a

Larger the size o f the basin, the greater the amount o f rain it intercepts and
higher the peak discharge it results. This rather obvious conclusion has been the
basis for a large number o f flood formula in general form:

Q = CA

Q = peak discharge;
A = basin area,
C = a constant that varies according to the land use or topography of the basin;
n = a constant that has a range from 0.2 to 0.9, depending on climate to some
extent (Chorley et al, 1969).

It should be noted that the effects o f other factors are considered insignificant in
these types of equations.

2 . 4 . 2 . 2 B a s i n Shape

The shape o f the catchment influences the runoff pattern o f the stream. Thus
for a semicircular catchment, the hydrograph is high and narrow, and for a long
narrow rectangular catchment it is broad and shallow. Long narrow watersheds
are likely to have lower runoff rates than compact watersheds o f the same size.
Because the runoff from the former does not concentrate as quickly as it does
from the compact areas and long watersheds are less likely to be covered
uniformly by intense storm.

This is a feature which is difficult to express numerically. H o w ever a number

of shape indices are cited in literature. The best known being the form factor and
compactness coefficient. The former is the ratio o f average width to axial length
o f the basin, while the latter demonstrates the compactness o f the basin.

(a) Form Factor

The form factor is an index expressing the relation o f average width to the axial
length o f the basin, to measure shape characteristics. Axial length is the length
from outlet to the remotest point in the basin and the average width is the average
width obtained perpendicular to the axial length. (Sharma and Sharma, 1977)

(b) Compactness coefficient

Compactness coefficient is the ratio o f perimeter o f the catchment to the

circumference o f a circle whose area is equal to that o f the catchment. This
coefficient is independent o f the size o f the catchment and is dependent only on
the shape (Sharma and Sharma, 1977).

2 . 4 . 2 . 3 Basin Elevation

The altitudinal extent of the basin above the gauging station exercise direct
and indirect control over the magnitude of the flood peak. With the slope and
several additional factors, it determines the proportion o f runoff, and indirectly it
influences a number o f other important controls, such as precipitation,
temperature, vegetation, and soil type. Though it is difficult to compute a single
term which gives a meaningful measure of basin elevation, several studies have
shown it has no significant relation to the size o f the flood peak (Chorley et al,

2 . 4 . 2 . 4 Drainage Density

The several characteristics o f the flood hydrograph hinge on the efficiency o f

the drainage system of a basin. A quick rise to a high peak is the mark o f a well

developed net work of short steep streams. Conversely, a minimal response to
intense rain usually reflects an incipient channel system.

Linear aspects of the channel system are expressed in terms o f stream order,
bifurcation ratio and stream length, other than the longest length o f the stream
channel, none o f these measures, by m e m selves have been shown to exercise
control over the flood peak. On the other hand their inclusion with other factors
has reduced the error o f estimate o f peak flow, and this also applies to areal
relationships and channel gradients (Chorley et al, 1973). According to the
literature cited, for a study o f England floods ninety-three slope factors were
computed and main channel slope was found as the most significant variable, hi
this study peak flow showed no relation to drainage density, once channel slope
has been taken in to account.

Drainage density is expressed as total length o f all streams, perennial and

intermittent, per unit area o f the basin. It is an index o f the areal channel
development in the catchment (Sharma and Sharma; 1977). Stream Slope

Slope is an obvious control o f peak discharge, but again it is a factor which is

difficult to interpret meaningfully. Generally it is taken as total fall between the
points divided by the stream length. Watersheds having extensive fiat areas or
depressed areas without surface outlets have lower runoff than areas with steep,
well-defined drainage patterns. In short and steep slopes, discharge is usually
rapid. Runoff from long slopes is generally slower but lasts longer after the
rainfall ceases.

The factor slope is used in different formula for peak flow estimation. In
rational formula Irrigation Department guidelines recommended to select the
coefficient ' C according to the catchment slope (ID, 1988). Slope is a factor
determining time o f concentration in Kirpich equation and Bransby William
equation. There are five classes o f slopes introduced to determine Curve Number
in SCS method for peak flow estimation. Vegetation and Land use

Vegetation and forests increase the infiltration and storage capacities o f the
soils, they cause considerable retardant to overland flow. Thus the vegetal cover
reduces the peak flow..This effect is usually very pronounced in small catchments
o f area less man 150km . Further, the effect o f the vegetal cover is prominent in
small storms (Chorely et al, 1969).

This is a factor for selecting the Curve Number in the SCS method o f peak
flow estimation. In some instances the land use cover is employed as a factor
determining the coefficient o f runoff in rational formula (IE A. 1977).