The Hydraulic Engineering research Unit has been in continuous operation since it was established in 1940. The lab, the only one of its kind in the U.S., is located, just downstream from the 3,000 acre lake Carl Blackwell dam. An almost unlimited water supply is available from the lake through the use of siphons. Indoor and outdoor hydraulic models are used by engineers at the laboratory. The research is used by the USDA Natural resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and others in the development of designs for a variety of erosion and flood control structures. Early lab research concentrated on hydraulics of grass-lined channels, including terrace outlet channels, farm reservoir spillways, diversions, and meadow strips. Research expanded to include components of flood control dams and today includes work on rehabilitation of ageing flood control dams.
The laboratory has had a major impact on soil and water conservation engineering and is recognized nationally and internationally as a significant contributor of sound design criteria for soil and water conservation structures and channels. Most notable is the pioneer work in the design concepts for vegetated waterways. This research resulted in the laboratory being recognized as a "Historic Landmark of Agricultural Engineering" by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers in 1990.
The mission of the Hydraulic Engineering Research Unit is to 1) develop criteria for design and analysis of safe, economical structures and channels for the conveyance, storage, disposal, and measurement of runoff water; 2) develop basic knowledge of the hydraulics of surface water flows for use in planning measures needed for environmentally appropriate control of runoff water and/or assessing the safety and efficiency of existing measures; and 3) determine the ability of vegetation, riprap, and/or various manufactured materials to protect hydraulic structures and channels from erosion.