How Good Is Good Enough? Water Board Required Accuracy of Your Measurement Device

How accurate does your measurement device have to be?  The Water Board gives those numbers in the Fact Sheet at; see the bottom of this post for the excerpt on accuracy.

When talking about new weirs, orifices, flumes, mag-meters, and acoustic Doppler devices, plus or minus (+/-) 5% accuracy is expected of new, properly installed, regularly maintained, correctly operated devices.  What does that mean?  If your diversion rate is measured at 1.00 cubic feet per second (cfs), then you would expect the true value to be between 0.95 and 1.05 cfs.  If your diversion rate is 5.00 cfs, then the true value would be between 4.75 and 5.25 cfs.  The total accuracy is 10%, we just don’t know if measured values are really up to 5% less, or 5% more than calculated.

New devices might actually have better accuracy than +/- 5%.  Engineers never count on that because a bunch of factors, known and unknown, can stealthily make the accuracy worse.  Accuracy also depends on the measurer – some are better than others, some are better trained and experienced, and most take the job seriously but some do not.

Of course, accuracy gets worse as measurement devices age.  Why does this happen?  There are a number of reasons:

  • Settling, so the device is not level front to back, or side to side, or both
  • Cracking, so water leaks out, or the cracked wall is not straight (planar)
  • Wear, spalling, chipping, and other roughening in the device floor and walls
  • The ditch fills in downstream, causing submergence
  • Old boards that warp and leak
  • Installed staff gages wear, making them harder to read correctly
  • Etc.

The USBR Water Measurement Manual has 14 chapters, and all of Chapter 3 discusses accuracy in great detail.  That’s the “Bible” of water measurement so we would expect it to be, well, accurate in its discussion of accuracy.

It is not clear to me yet whether the Board’s accuracy numbers are +/- values, meaning the allowed accuracy is +/- 15% for diversions less than 100 acre-feet (AF) per year, and +/- 10% for diversions greater than 10 AF per year.  If so, that seems reasonable because that allows for some aging of measurement devices.  Otherwise, the Board would expect measurement devices to always be in new condition for diversions greater than 100 AF per year or storage greater than 200 AF per year.  That would be pretty expensive!

That brings up the subject of money – accuracy requirements hit your pocketbook.  First you have to either install or pay for a measurement device to be installed.  Hopefully the device will last 20 to 30 years, but high flows, getting walked on by cattle, freezing and thawing, settling faster than expected, and other events can wear them out faster.  The replacement cycle might be 10 years for some diversions, or even 5 if wear and tear is bad.


This post may be more than most people want to read on the subject of accuracy.  Still, it’s a lot shorter than Chapter 3 of the Water Measurement Manual!

That’s all for now, have a great rest of the week.

Weirs – Planning, Building, And Measuring Flows

Tomorrow is Christmas 2015!  Merry Christmas all.

Weirs are the least expensive permanent measurement device you can install.  Materials will cost the diverter in the range of $300 to $2,000; hiring the backhoe to set it in place probably costs more than the materials, unless the diverter already has a backhoe or crane.

The weir below was precast by Briggs Manufacturing in Willows.  The weir is a cast concrete, 3-sided box with board slots for 2″ lumber.  It’s pretty simple, and relatively easy to install.  This particular weirWeir_Showing_Board_Slotsneeded metal wing-walls to keep the dirt on the sides from washing out.  Note that there are two board slots on each side, one for the boards to slide in, and the other to help make sure a nappe or air gap is created as water flows over the boards.

Step one is determining if there is enough fall in head from upstream to downstream.  A weir needs 0.7 feet (0.7′), or 8.4 inches (8.4″) of fall to be sure it will work correctly.  The 0.7′ figure is because the pool of water needs to be a maximum of 0.45′ above the top of the weir boards on the  upstream side.  Then, the water in the ditch downstream of the weir needs to be at least 0.25′ below the top of the boards so the water flows freely, separating from the boards and having an air gap on the downstream side.  0.45′ + 0.25′ = 0.70′.Sticking_Weir_sharpened

The photo above shows a ruler in tenths of a foot, held vertically on top of the weir boards.  This is called “sticking the weir”.  When the ruler is turned face-on to the flow, the water will climb up to the same level as the flat pool upstream of the boards.  It’s physics – standing water has an energy level equal to the height of the water surface.  Moving water has both potential and kinetic energy, so the energy level or line is above the surface of the

Sticking_Weir_zoom_sharpenedwater.  Moving water stalls behind the face of the ruler, giving the height of the water if it were standing still.  That is the water depth that has to be measured for weirs.  The photo is showing a water level of 0.31′ – it wobbles up and down just a little – so we know this weir is flowing at about 0.6 cfs per foot of width.

If the ditch is very flat and shows no ripples when flowing, it’s probably too flat, and an orifice or a flume will be needed instead of a weir.  Future posts will discuss those measurement devices, and others too.

Step 2 is figuring out how big a box is needed.  Fortunately, there is an easy rule.  1.0′ feet of width is needed for every cubic foot per second (cfs) that will be diverted.  For example, if the diversion will be a maximum of 3 cfs, then the diverter will need a 3′ wide weir.contracted_weir  If in doubt, get the next larger size since the cost is not much more.  The reason for this rule is that a weir can be accurate to plus or minus 5%, well within the accuracy needed for diversions in the field.  If the pool upstream of the weir boards is more than 0.45′ over the top of the boards (or less than about 0.1′ over the top of the boards), the accuracy of the weir is worse than the standard.

Measurement devices need to be planned and operated correctly to assure the diverter (and ditch-tender, and neighbors, and the State Water Resources Control Board, andsuppressed_weirpossibly 10 other state and federal agencies, and possibly even the Superior Court in the very worst case) that the flow measurement is correct.  It’s like a truck speedometer – they can get less accurate over time.  It’s no problem if they read faster than the driver is actually driving, but if they read slower, the driver is in danger of unknowingly speeding and getting a ticket.  Ouch.

The actual installation process is fairly simple to describe.  Get 1 to 4 yards of 3/4″ minus road base rock delivered on site, trucked from the gravel plant.  To save a lot of hassle, skip the forming up and pouring a concrete weir, and just call Briggs Manufacturing and order a weir to be delivered on site.  Dig a shallow, level (flat), square hole in the bottom of the ditch, about 8″ deep, and 1′ longer and wider than the bottom of the weir.  Shovel base rock into the hole about 2″ deep, and compact it.  Rent a gas-powered thumper, or use the bucket of the backhoe.  Pour another 2″ and compact it.  Use a level and make sure the top of the base rock is level side to side, and along the ditch.  Since it packed down during compacting, add the last 1″ and compact it, so the top of the road base is about 4″ below the bottom of the ditch upstream and downstream.

The installer needs to make sure to have a piece of 1″ steel bar that is about 1′ longer than the the width of the weir box.  There is one hole through the top of each side of the weir – stick the rod through that and hook onto it with a chain to lift the weir.  Set it in place, and make sure it is sitting level.  The installer might have to gently press down on one side with the backhoe to get it completely level.  Now the floor of the weir will be at the level of the bottom of the ditch.  Remove the steel bar, and fill the weir box inside about 2′ deep with some dirt.

Next, install the wing-walls, if needed.  These will keep the material on the outsides of the weir from washing out in a steeper ditch.  Then backfill with the remaining road base on the sides, compacting it for each 6″ of depth.  If tNew_Weirhe native soil holds water well, it could be used instead of base rock to backfill, saving a little bit of money.  Remember the dirt that was placed 2′ deep inside the weir?  This will keep the weir weighted down so it does not move during backfilling.  Also, it will keep the sides from being slightly bent in by the pressure of compacting the backfill.  The reinforced concrete weir boxes are strong but the walls can be bent in with enough force.

That’s it!  The weir box is installed and ready to go.  New weir boards, usually 2″ x 6″ or 2″ x 8″, should be cut about 1″ shorter than the width inside the board slots.  For example, a 3′-wide weir will have board slots about 2″ deep.  The full width from inside of board slot, to inside of the opposite board slot, is 3′-4″.  The boards should be cut about 3′-3″ long.  That way, when they swell a little bit, they won’t get impossibly stuck.

Happy measuring!  Good night to all, Merry Christmas, and blessings in the New Year.

Water Rights And Engineers

What is “water rights engineering”? It is not litigating as an attorney, since I am not a lawyer. It could include design and construction of dams, diversion works, pipelines, pumps, and other water-related work.

Concerning water rights, land ownership may change after a water right is defined. Parcels are split so children can each have a part of the original ranch, or because the owner needs income, and a panoply of other reasons. What happens to the original water right?

Well, it depends. In many court adjudications, or decrees, the irrigation water right gets split up by how much of the original place of use is in each smaller parcel. Decrees may also have rights for other uses like domestic (household) use, stock water, storage in a pond or lake, instream fisheries, frost protection, industry, fire protection, and from years past, filling the water tanks in a train steam engine.

What kinds of water rights are there and where do they come from? More on that later.