Apr 26 2011

Solid Foundation

Foundations are important.  In the world of digital analysis and design, data is the foundation.  Even with the best engineering, analysis, and design, if your data is wrong the results will be wrong.  Is your data solid?  Do you know where it came from?  Could you even tell if it was wrong?


The stakes are surprisingly high when working with rivers, check out these stats:

  • Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States.
  • Bridge Scour is the leading cause of bridge failure in the United States.
  • Levees received a D- grade from the ASCE Report Card for American Infrastructure.
  • Pollution makes 40% or our nations rivers and streams unfit for fishing and swimming.
  • Habitat along riparian corridors has been lost or altered (up to 70%).

Before beginning to address any of these issues a solid foundation of appropriate data must be collected, processed, and made available to those who need it.   According to the National Research Council of the National Academies, “Topographic data are the most important factor in determining flood elevations and the extent of flooding.”  Even though this is true, many people working on the issues mentioned above don’t fully understand the data they are working with.

Anyone who has taken a hydraulics or fluid mechanics course has probably been given something like this;


Of course to solve the problem use the Manning’s equation and get your answer.  Once you are out of school and need to solve a similar problem there arises a whole list of questions that were not covered in school.

  • Where do I get the elevation data to figure out what my cross section looks like? (both above and below water)
  • How do I determine the slope of the channel?
  • How do I figure out my n values?
  • What flow should I use?
  • What is my tail water depth?

The point being, in school all of the data is just given to you and you solve the problem.  In the real world knowing what data you need and obtaining it is often a large part of a job.

3 pings

  1. » 2-D Model 101 Hydraulically Inclined

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  2. » Know Your Data Hydraulically Inclined

    […] data is the foundation for any study or design, knowing a little something about the data you use should be a priority.  […]

  3. A New Flood of Record on the Mississippi? » Hydraulically Inclined

    […] It’s only a matter of time. There are some things we can do: better hydraulic modeling (based on accurate data) leading to accurate floodplain mapping, giving the river space to do what it wants, and using […]

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