Lateral Structure on River Bends
Lateral structures can be used in HEC-RAS for transferring flow from a river/reach to another river/reach, 2D area or storage…
One of the limitations of HEC-RAS is that it is a one-dimensional model. Simply put, RAS assumes all flow moves along a singular dimension. For a given cross section, all of the flow is assumed to move either downstream, or all of it moves upstream, along the singular dimension (which can be defined as a polyline-does not have to be a straight line). The consequence of this is that there is only one water surface elevation (stage), and one total flow for a given time step at a given cross section. All of the other variables for a given cross section that you see in the profile output table, detailed output table, DSS, etc. are derived from the stage and flow values. This includes the velocity and shear stress distributions over a cross section, which can provide the appearance of a 2-dimensional analysis. But that is all based on a conveyance distribution over geometric segments of the cross section using that single water surface elevation and single total flow.
So why do I bring this up? First, it’s always good to know ALL of the limitations of whatever model you’re using to predict future outcomes. But I also want to demonstrate the “quasi-2-dimensional” capabilities of HEC-RAS. While planning a hydraulic study in an estuarine environment, you may immediately start thinking about which 2-dimensional model you want to use. But I’ve seen many great (and creative) applications of HEC-RAS in these 2-dimensional environments that produce very reasonable, if not accurate results. In short, a quasi-2-d analysis in RAS requires you, the user, to understand up front the likely flow patterns in your study area. This is best accomplished by going out to the field and looking at your site, studying topographic and bathymetric maps, looking at aerial photographs, and simple common sense and experience. Once you’ve determined your perceived flow paths, all water outside of these flow paths should either be ineffective flow areas, storage areas, or even separate reaches.
Here’s an example of an estuarine environment on the Oregon Coast (Yaquina Bay). I haven’t modeled this yet, but if I were, here’s how I would approach my model setup:
1. Draw a stream centerline (blue in the figure) that represents the singular dimension of flow movement-i.e. flow will either move downstream or upstream along in the direction of this line. Cut cross sections at an appropriate spacing, making sure to cover all areas that could get wet during the simulation. Yes, the trib channel south of the main reach is not covered, but I’ll get to that in a second.
2. Define ineffective flow areas. These are areas that you will expect WON’T have flow actively moving along the singular dimension. Be sure to appropriately define expansion and contraction of flow as you draw in the ineffective polygons. All portions of your cross sections that fall within these areas should be set to be ineffective in your RAS model.
3. Areas that could possibly have a different water surface elevation than the nearest cross section should be split out and modeled as an off-line storage area. Connect that Storage Area to the main reach using a Lateral Structure. You’ll have to come up with a stage-storage curve for the storage area, to be able to model it in RAS. This is a very easy and straight-forward exercise in GIS, as long as you have sufficient topographic coverage. Keep in mind, RAS uses the simplified level pool routing method for Storage Areas. Lateral Structures used for this application will not have an actual “structure” associated with it, so the discharge coefficient you use is very subjective. Typically values on the order of 0.5 to 1.5 are used. Calibrate this if you can.
4. Alternatively, you can model the tributary as its own reach, connected to the main channel with a junction. This will allow you to model it using the full dynamic St. Venant equations, giving a more physically representative answer in the trib. However, if movement of water through this reach is relatively slow (i.e. typical ebb and flood tides), a storage area will be fine-and easier! You can get as complex as you want. There are no limitations within RAS to the number of storage areas, ineffective flow areas, lateral structures, and tributary reaches you use. Just keep in mind, the more complex you make it, the more difficult it will be to troubleshoot any instabilities.
The following video is a great example of a quasi-2-d application of HEC-RAS. This very complex model and the video were created by Gary Brunner at the Hydrologic Engineering Center.