Spillway Hydraulics Assessments

This article was contributed by Faizal Yusuf, M.A.Sc., P.Eng., Specialist Engineer in the Hydrotechnical department at BC Hydro.

BC Hydro, a public electric utility in British Columbia, uses FLOW-3D to investigate complex hydraulics issues at several existing dams and to assist in the design and optimization of proposed facilities. Three case studies are presented in this article that highlight the application of FLOW-3D to different types of spillways and the importance of reliable prototype or physical hydraulic model data for numerical model calibration.

W.A.C. Bennett Dam

Shock Waves in Spillway Chute

At W.A.C. Bennett Dam, differences in the spillway geometry between the physical hydraulic model from the 1960s and the prototype make it difficult to draw reliable conclusions on shock wave formation and chute capacity from physical model test results. The magnitude of shock waves in the concrete-lined spillway chute are strongly influenced by a 44% reduction in the chute width downstream of the three radial gates at the headworks, as well as the relative openings of the radial gates. The shock waves lead to locally higher water levels that have caused overtopping of the chute walls under certain historical operations.

Prototype spill tests for discharges up to 2,865 m3/s were performed in 2012 to provide surveyed water surface profiles along chute walls, 3D laser scans of the water surface in the chute and video of flow patterns for FLOW-3Dmodel calibration. Excellent agreement was obtained between the numerical model and field observations, particularly for the location and height of the first shock wave at the chute walls (Figure 1).

Shock Waves in Spillway Chute
Figure 1. Comparison between prototype observations and FLOW-3D for a spill discharge of 2,865 m^3/s at Bennett Dam spillway.

The calibrated FLOW-3D model confirmed that the design flood could be safely passed without overtopping the spillway chute walls as long as all three radial gates are opened as prescribed in existing operating orders with the outer gates open more than the inner gate.

The CFD model also provided insight into the concrete damage in the spillway chute. Cavitation indices computed from FLOW-3D simulation results were compared with empirical data from the USBR and found to be consistent with the historical performance of the spillway. The numerical analysis supported field inspections, which concluded that deterioration of the concrete conditions in the chute is likely not due to cavitation.

Strathcona Dam

Poor Approach Conditions and Uncertainty of Spillway Rating Curves

FLOW-3D was used to investigate poor approach conditions and uncertainties with the rating curves for Strathcona Dam spillway, which includes three vertical lift gates on the right abutment of the dam. The rating curves for Strathcona spillway were developed from a combination of empirical adjustments and limited physical hydraulic model testing in a flume that did not include geometry of the piers and abutments.

Numerical model testing and calibration was based on comparisons with prototype spill observations from 1982 when all three gates were fully open, resulting in a large depression in the water surface upstream of the leftmost bay (Figure 2). The approach flow to the leftmost bay is distorted by water flowing parallel to the dam axis and plunging over the concrete retaining wall adjacent to the upstream slope of the earthfill dam. The flow enters the other two bays much more smoothly. In addition to very similar flow patterns produced in the numerical model compared to the prototype, simulated water levels at the gate section matched 1982 field measurements to within 0.1 m.

Prototype observations and FLOW-3D results for a Strathcona Dam spill in 1982 with all three gates fully open.
Figure 2. Prototype observations and FLOW-3D results for a Strathcona Dam spill in 1982 with all three gates fully open.

The calibrated CFD model produces discharges within 5% of the spillway rating curve for the reservoir’s normal operating range with all gates fully open. However, at higher reservoir levels, which may occur during passage of large floods (as shown in Figure 3), the difference between simulated discharges and the rating curves are greater than 10% as the physical model testing with simplified geometry and empirical corrections did not adequately represent the complex approach flow patterns. The FLOW-3D model provided further insight into the accuracy of rating curves for individual bays, gated conditions and the transition between orifice and free surface flow.

FLOW-3D results for Strathcona Dam spillway with all gates fully open at an elevated reservoir level during passage of a large flood. Note the effects of poor approach conditions and pier overtopping at the leftmost bay.
Figure 3. FLOW-3D results for Strathcona Dam spillway with all gates fully open at an elevated reservoir level during passage of a large flood. Note the effects of poor approach conditions and pier overtopping at the leftmost bay.

John Hart Dam

Optimization of a Proposed Spillway

The John Hart concrete dam will be modified to include a new free crest spillway to be situated between an existing gated spillway and a low level outlet structure that is currently under construction. Significant improvements in the design of the proposed spillway were made through a systematic optimization process using FLOW-3D.

The preliminary design of the free crest spillway was based on engineering hydraulic design guides. Concrete apron blocks are intended to protect the rock at the toe of the dam. A new right training wall will guide the flow from the new spillway towards the tailrace pool and protect the low level outlet structure from spillway discharges.

FLOW-3D model results for the initial and optimized design of the new spillway are shown in Figure 4. CFD analysis led to a 10% increase in discharge capacity, significant decrease in roadway impingement above the spillway crest and improved flow patterns including up to a 5 m reduction in water levels along the proposed right wall.  Physical hydraulic model testing will be used to confirm the proposed design.

FLOW-3D model results for the preliminary and optimized layout of the proposed spillway at John Hart Dam.
Figure 4. FLOW-3D model results for the preliminary and optimized layout of the proposed spillway at John Hart Dam.

Conclusion

BC Hydro has been using FLOW-3D to investigate a wide range of challenging hydraulics problems for different types of spillways and water conveyance structures leading to a greatly improved understanding of flow patterns and performance. Prototype data and reliable physical hydraulic model testing are used whenever possible to improve confidence in the numerical model results.

Learn more about modeling water & environmental applications using FLOW-3D.