Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Connecting a River to an Off-channel Storage Area using a Lateral Structure

Written by Chris Goodell, P.E., D. WRE | WEST Consultants
Copyright © 2012.  All rights reserved.

An off-channel storage area in HEC-RAS can be a very useful way to simulate flooding in interior areas, adjacent ponds and lakes, urban areas next to rivers, green storage, or just about any area that you expect to flood but will be better represented as ponded water versus actively conveying water.  Connecting rivers to off-channel storage areas is done via lateral structures.  Although it is possible to use lateral structures and storage areas in steady flow modeling, typically lateral structures and storage areas are used in unsteady flow modeling, where quantification of storage and hydrograph attenuation are very important.

Here’s a simple example of using a lateral structure to connect a river to an off-channel storage area (this happens to be the LeveeBreach.prj project that comes with the HEC-RAS installation).

To begin, first make sure your cross sections are all included and correctly entered.  Then you draw in (or import from GIS) your storage area.  To do that, simply click on the Storage Area button on the top of the geometry schematic and start clicking points to define the perimeter of the storage area.  Double-click to complete the storage area.  Now you are ready to connect the river to the storage area.
Select the Lateral Structure button on the left side of the geometry schematic.    When you do this the first time, the following graphic will be blank, but in this case, the lateral structure (which is being used to simulate a levee) is already entered in.  The figure below shows the lateral structure in profile view.  The stationing plotted on the x-axis is the lateral structure stationing (which you will define in the Weir/Embankment editor).  It is NOT the same as the river stationing.

The River, Reach, and HW RS (Headwater River Station) define the location of the lateral structure in your system.  The upstream end of your lateral structure will be located at the HW RS (but can be shifted downstream of this station in the weir/embankment editor).  Notice that lateral structures are stationed from upstream to downstream (i.e. 0 is the most upstream point on the lateral structure).  The vertical lines in the graphic represent cross sections that are spanned by the lateral structure.  The vertical line that sits at station 0 is the HW RS.  The boxes on the bottom of the vertical lines represent the invert elevation of the respective cross sections, and the boxes on the top represent the end points of the cross section (on the side of the cross section that the lateral structure is located: left or right).  The red dots represent the bank stations of the respective cross sections.

Next, give a description for the lateral structure in the Description box and then define where its headwater position is.  You can place the lateral structure in either of the overbanks (left or right side) or adjacent to either bank station (left or right). 

The plan data Optimization button is just a shortcut to the plan file to quickly define whether or not you want to optimize the flow split over the lateral structure during the initial conditions run.  Typically you will want to optimize this if you have flow over the lateral structure at the beginning of the simulation.  If your initial conditions are below the lateral structure, leave this off.  The Breach button is a shortcut to the breach editor, if you want to breach this lateral structure during the simulation.

The “Tailwater Connection” is really the subject of this post-this is how you connect the river to the storage area.  Make sure you select “Storage Area” as your Type and then go choose the storage area you want to connect to by clicking the “Set SA” button.  Alternatively you could connect a lateral structure to another river/reach or you could connect it to nothing (send the flow over/through the lateral structure out of the system). 

There’s still work to be done to define the Weir/Embankment (if not already done), but the Storage area and the river are now connected via the lateral structure.  If you want to make sure you are connected, look at the points of the lateral structure on the geometry schematic.  If you see thin black lines connecting the end of the lateral structure to the storage area, then you know RAS recognizes them as being connected (sometimes you have so zoom in close to see the “connection lines”).


If you are having difficulty connecting lateral structures to rivers and/or storage areas, I highly encourage you to open up this example in HEC-RAS and have a look around.  Normally you will find the example projects in C:\Program Files\HEC\HEC-RAS\4.1.0\Example Projects.

The “4.1.0” might be different if you’re using a different version of HEC-RAS.  If you don’t see the example projects here, go to the Help menu item on the main HEC-RAS window and select “Install Example Projects…”