HEC‑RAS Culvert Direct Step Computations

Three Barrel Culvert

For culverts flowing partially full, the water surface profile in the culvert is computed using the direct step method. This method is very efficient, because no iterations are required to determine the flow depth for each step. The water surface profile is computed for small increments of depth (usually between 0.01 and 0.05 feet). If the flow depth equals the height of the culvert before the profile reaches the upstream end of the culvert, the friction loss through the remainder of the culvert is computed assuming full flow.

The first step in the direct step method is to compute the exit loss and establish a starting water surface inside the culvert. If the tailwater depth is below critical depth inside the culvert, then the starting condition inside the culvert is assumed to be critical depth. If the tailwater depth is greater than critical depth in the culvert, then an energy balance is performed from the downstream cross section to inside of the culvert. This energy balance evaluates the change in energy by the following equation.

energy balance evaluates (1)

energy balance evaluates formula

Once a water surface is computed inside the culvert at the downstream end, the next step is to perform the direct step backwater calculations through the culvert. The direct step backwater calculations will continue until a water surface and energy are obtained inside the culvert at the upstream end. The final step is to add an entrance loss to the computed energy to obtain the upstream energy outside of the culvert at the upstream side (cross section 3) of the roadway crossing. The water surface outside the culvert is then obtained by computing the water surface at cross section 3 that corresponds to the calculated energy for the given flow rate.

About the Author Chris Maeder

Chris Maeder

Chris is an experienced civil engineering and software technology leader, with over 30 years industry experience. With proven expertise in global software development, he has built engineering teams that adapt quickly, focus on what’s important and, most importantly, deliver. He is a licensed professional civil engineer with extensive experience in water resource engineering. He has performed and supervised engineering projects in urban stormwater drainage, transportation and roadway drainage, storm sewer design, detention pond design, stormwater quality, green infrastructure, watershed management planning, wastewater sewers, water distribution networks, pump stations, FEMA flood studies, bridge and culvert design, bridge scour and armoring, dam failure analysis, seepage and groundwater modeling, and environmental permits.

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