Submitted to: American Society of Civil Engineers History and Heritage Series
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: March 15, 2003
Publication Date: May 1, 2003
Citation: BRITTON, S.L., HANSON, G.J., TEMPLE, D.M. A HISTROIC LOOK AT THE USDA-ARS HYDRAULIC ENGINEERING RESEARCH UNIT. BROWN, G.O., GARBRECT, J.D., HAGER, W.H., EDITORS. HENRY P.G. DARCY AND OTHER PRONEERS IN HYDRAULICS. 2003. P. 263-276. Interpretive Summary: Hydraulic engineering research has progressed over the past 65 years at the USDA-ARS Hydraulic Engineering Research Unit in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The initial intent of the laboratory was to address soil erosion and conservation related problems that developed during the Dust Bowl years by researching and developing design criteria for grass-lined waterways. In later years, research expanded to include hydraulic structures. Throughout the years, research at the laboratory has assisted engineers worldwide in making sound engineering judgments as well as provided new techniques in measuring flow and soil erodibility. The Hydraulic Laboratory has gained national and international recognition as a significant contributor of sound design criteria for soil and water conservation structures and channels. The design criteria developed by the researchers at the laboratory for many hydraulic structures and grass-lined channels have shaped the landscape of the United States into what it is today. The Agricultural Research Service, of which the laboratory is a part, remains committed to providing U.S. agriculture with the technology required for sustainable production of a safe, high quality, food supply.
Technical Abstract: During the Dust Bowl era in the 1930's, conservation of our soil became a national focus. Conservationists began developing best management practices for soil conservation. One of those practices, vegetative waterways, led to the establishment of the USDA-Soil Conservation Service (SCS) Outdoor Hydraulic Laboratory near Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1936. The initial intent of the laboratory was to answer questions related to the proper design of grass-lined waterways. The laboratory was moved to its present location near Lake Carl Blackwell, approximately 7 miles west of Stillwater, Oklahoma in 1941. Now known as the Hydraulic Engineering Research Unit (HERU) of the Plant Science and Water Conservation Research Laboratory (PSWCRL), it became part of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in 1953. Under the direction of project supervisor William O. Ree, the early-day purpose of the laboratory was to study the hydraulics of grass-lined channels, including terrace outlet channels, farm reservoir emergency spillways, diversions, and meadow strips. Research later expanded to incorporate hydraulic structures, including trash guards for closed conduit spillway entrances, hood inlet pipe spillways, and box inlet drops. A sister ARS Research Unit, conducting research on hydraulic structures, was located at the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The function of this research unit was moved to Stillwater and became a part of that program in 1983. In addition to research related to hydraulic structures, significant advances were made in the area of watershed runoff measurement through the development of new flow measurement devices and calibration procedures. Laboratory scientists have worked in cooperation with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) (formerly the SCS) since the laboratories inception. This cooperation has led to the development of Sites, Water Resource Site Analysis software used in design of watershed dams and spillways. Research has also included work in embankment overtopping, concentrated flow erosion, headcut erosion, and rock chute design. Under Ree and his successors' leadership, the laboratory has gained national and international recognition as a significant contributor of sound design criteria for soil and water conservation structures and channels.