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A critical topic in the area of open-channel hydraulics is the design of channels

capable of transporting water between two points in a safe, cost-effective manner. Although
economics, safety, and esthetics must always be considered. In addition, this discussion will
be limited to the design of channels for uniform flow, and only three types of channels will be
considered : (1) lined or nonerodible ; (2) unlined, earthen, or erodible ; and (3) grass lined. In
examining the design procedures for three types of channels, there are some basic concepts
which are common to all three, and these commonalities will be discussed first.
From the Manning and Chezy equation, it is clear that the conveyance of a channel
increases as the hydraulic radius increases or as the wetted perimeter decreases. Thus, from
the viewpoint of hydraulics, there is among all channel cross section of a specified geometric
shape and area an optimum set of dimensions for that shape. Among all possible channel cross
sections, the best hydraulic section is a semicircle since, for a given area, it has the minimum
wetted perimeter. The proportions of the best hydraulic section of specified geometric shape
can be easily derived. It should be noted that from the point of view of applications, the best
hydraulic section is not necessarily the most economic section. In practice the following
factors must be considered :
1. The best hydraulic section minimize the area required to convey a specified flow ;
however, the area which must be excavated to achieve the flow area required by the
best hydraulics section may be significantly larger if the over burden which must be
removed is considered.
2. It may not be possible to contruct a stable best hydraulic section in the available
natural material. If the channel must be lined, the cost of the linning may be
comparable with the cost of excavation.
3. The cost of excavation depends not only on the amount of material which must be
removed, but also on the ease of access to the site and the cost of disposing of the
material removed.
4. The slope of the channel in may cases must also be considered a variable since it is not
necessarily completely defined by topographic considerations. For example, while a
reduced channel slope may require a larger channel flow area to convey the specified
flow, the cost of excavating the overburden may be reduced.

Table 1.1 Geometric elements of best hydraulic section

Cross Section
Trapezoid ; half of a
Rectangle ; half of a
Triangle ; half a square
Parabola ;
Hydrostatic catenary




Top Width


1,73 y2

3,46 y

0,500 y

2,31 y

0,750 y

2 y2


0,500 y



2,83 y

0,354 y


0,500 y

0,500 y2

0,500 y


0,250 y

1,89 y2

3,77 y

0,500 y

2,83 y

0,667 y

1,40 y2

2,98 y

0,468 y

1,92 y

0,728 y

The terminology minimum permissible velocity refers to the lowest velocity which
will prevent both sedimentation and vegetative growth. In general, an average velocity of 2 to
3 ft/s (0,61 to 0,91 m/s) will prevent sedimentation when the silt load of the flow is low. A
velocity of 2,5 ft/s (0,76 m/s) is usually sufficient to prevent the growth of vegetation which
could significantly affect the conveyance of the channel. It should be recognized that these
numbers are at best only generalized and in some cases very poor estimates of the actual
minimum permissible velocity.
In most design problems, the longitudinal slope of the channel is determined by
topography, the head required to carry the design flow, and the purpose of the channel. For
example, in a hydroelectric power canal, a high head at the point of delivery is desirable, and
a minimum longitudinal channel slope should be used.
Table 1.2 Suitable side slope for channels built in various types of materials (Chow, 1959)
Muck and peat soils
Stiff clay or earth with concrete lining
Earth with stone lining or earth for large channels
Firm clay or earth for small ditches
Loose, sand earth
Sandy loam or porous clay

Side Slope
Nearly vertical
: 1 to 1:1
1,5 : 1

The side slope of a channel depend primarily on the engineering properties of the
material through which the channel is excavated. From a practical view-point, the side slopes
should be as steep as possible so that a minimum amount of land is required. In table 1.2 side
slope for channels excavated through various types of material are suggested. These values
are suitable for premilinary design purpose. In deep cuts, side slope are often steeper above
the water surface than they are below the surface. In small drainage ditches, the side slope are
steeper than they would be in irrigation canal excavated in the same material. In many cases,
side slopes are determined by the economics of construction. With regard to this subject, the
following general comments are appropriate :
1. In many unlined earthen canals on federal irrigation projects, side slopes are usually
1,5 : 1 however, side slopes as steep as 1 : 1 have been used when the channel runs
through cohesive materials.
2. In lined canals, the side slopes are generally steeper than in an unlined canal. If
concrete is the lining material, side slope greater the 1 : 1 usually require the use of
forms, and with side slopes greater than 0,75 : 1 the lining must be designed to
withstand earth pressures. Some types of linning require side slopes as flat as those
used for unlined channels.
3. Side slopes through cuts in rock can be vertical if this is desirable.


Lined channels are built for five primary reasons :
1. To permit the transmission of water at high velocities through areas of deep or difficult
excavation in a cost-effective fashion
2. To permit the transmission of water at high velocity at a reduced construction cost
3. To decrease canal seepage, thus conserving water and reducing the waterlogging of
lands adjacent to the canal
4. To reduce the annual costs of operation and maintenance
5. To ensure the stability of the channel section
The design of lined channels from the viewpoint of hydraulic engineering is a rather
elementary process which generally consists of proportioning an assumed channel cross
section. Some typical cross sections of lined channels used on irrigation projects in United
States are summarized in Table 1.3, and a typical line section of the All-American Canal is
shown in Fig. 1.2. Additional information regarding channel linings can be found in Willison
(1958) and Anonymous (1963). A recommended procedure for proportioning a lined section is

summarized in Table 1.4. In This table, it is assumed that the design flow QD, the longitudinal
slope of the channel S, the type of channel cross section, e.g., trapezoidal, and the lining
material have all been selected prior to the initiation of the channel design process.

Table 1.3 Typical cross sections of lined channels for selected canals
in the western United States

Table 1.4 A design procedure for lined channels

These channels are lined with materials that do not erode easily, e.g. concrete, stone
pitching, steel, wood, glass, plastic, etc.
The choice of material depends on availability and cost of respective materials. The
advantage of nonerodible channels is that lower roughness values allow higher velocities to be
maintained in a specific channel resulting in the building of a smaller, cheaper structure. Costs
must be minimized when designing non-erodible channels. Two aspects need to be taken into
consideration, namely the quantity of lining material and excavation required.
To minimize the quantity of lining material required, the maximum hydraulic radius
should be used, therefore the wetted perimeter should be the minimum for a specific area.
This is known as the best hydraulic section. A semi-circle is the most effective hydraulic
section as the wetted perimeter is the smallest of all sections with the same area. For practical
reasons, semi circle channels are not recommended for waterdepths < 0,5 m. See Table 7.3 for
the best hydraulic section of the five most common channel shapes. The best hydraulic section
does not, however, always require the smallest amount of excavation. The quantity of

excavation will depend on whether the channel is partially or fully underground. For a
partially underground channel the excavation will be less provided that the section is wider
than the best hydraulic section and for a sunken channel the excavation will be less if the
channel is narrower than the best hydraulic section.
Generally channels are designed so that, for the chosen profile, the cut and fill balance
out. The part of the channel that carries the water should be in excavation.
The maximum lining depth for parabolic channels is two metres if manual labour is
used during construction, the reason being that the freshly placed concrete tends to slide down
the channel sides. For larger parabolic channels it is recommended that the floor be made
horizontal with the sides parabolic. If the flow should decrease along the length of this type of
channel, the floor width can be reduced while the parabolic shape of the sides remains the
same. Practice has shown that in stable, well-drained soil, the side slopes of parabolic
channels should not exceed 2:1.
Trapezoidal channels are usually used where flows are > 8 m3/s, with side slopes of
1:1,5 generally being used.
Rectangular channels should only be used where space is limited and where small quantities
of water are to be transported. In such cases rectangular channels have the advantage of being
more stable than trapezoidal channels, therefore also requiring less maintenance. With large
channels the cost of a rectangular channel may be up to three times more than the equivalent
trapezoidal channel.
The dry board of a channel is chosen such, that the distance is sufficient to prevent
overtopping due to waves or variations in water level. There is no generally accepted rule for
determining dry board, as wave action and variations in water level are caused by
uncontrollable factors. A dry board variation of 5% 30% of the normal flow depth is
generally accepted.
Table 1.5. Guidelines for the dry board

Picture 1.1 Types Of Open Channel, Non-Erodible Channel

Source : ; Types Of Open Channel ;

accessed : April, 19th 2016

Picture 1.2 Geotextile Lined to Solve Californias Drought Problems

Source : ; California Drought Creates Grim

Ripple Effect ; accessed : April, 19th 2016

Picture 1.3 Rehabs of Irrigation System

Source : ; World Banks PIDP Rehabs CARs Biggest Irrigation System
; accessed : April, 19th 2016

Example 1.1:
The normal flow depth in a trapezoidal concrete channel is 2 m. The base width is 5 m with
side slopes 1:2. The channel slope is 0,001 and Manning's n = 0,015. Determine the flow rate
and average flow velocity.

Solution :
W = b + 2zy
= 13 m
A = ( b + zy ) y = ( 5 + 2 x 2 ) x 2 = 18 m2


b 2 y 1 z 2 5 2 x2 1 2 2

1 A3
AS 2

= 13,94 m2

18 3
x18 x(0,001) 2
0,015 13,94

= 45 m3

Q 45

2,5m / s
A 18

Example 7.2:
Determine flow depth and average flow velocities for a concrete channel with slope 1:2 500
changing to 1:3 000. Assume Manning's n-value = 0,017. The channel is rectangular with a
base width of 3 m and must be able to handle a flow rate of 2 m3/s.



1. Jensen, M. E. 1983. Design and operation of farm irrigation systems. The American
Society of Agricultural Engineers.
2. Chadwick, A. and Morfett, J. 1986. Hydraulics in Civil Engineering. Department of
Civil Engineering. Brighton Polytechnic.

3. French, Richard H. 1985 . Open Channel Hydraulics. McGraw-Hill Company.

4. Ven te Chow. 1959. Open channel hydraulics. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.