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Hydraulic Engineering Research
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Hydraulic Engineering Research

-Making Conservation Practices Safe and Effective

The USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Hydraulic Engineering Research Unit is a unique, one of a kind research laboratory, located downstream from the 3,000-acre Lake Carl Blackwell near Stillwater, Oklahoma. The laboratory has been in continuous operation since 1940. A large gravity flow water supply and ample land downstream of the dam makes the laboratory unique among other hydraulic laboratories around the world. The laboratory occupies 100 acres of open land. Water is supplied directly from Lake Carl Blackwell through five siphons with discharge rates ranging from a trickle to approximately 120 cubic feet per second. Canals with sufficient slope provide gravity flow to outdoor research facilities. Pipelines connected to two of the siphons supply gravity flow to indoor research facilities. Scientists at this laboratory conduct indoor and outdoor hydraulic modeling at small to prototype scales. The research is used by the federal (e.g. USDA-NRCS, USBR, USACE among others) and state agencies, academia (e.g. Oklahoma State University, Kansas State University, Baylor University, Colorado State University, among others), and independent engineering consultants in the development of designs for a variety of erosion control and flood control structures or in research of their own.

Early lab research concentrated on hydraulics of grass-lined channels for terrace outlets, farm reservoir spillways, diversions, and meadow strips. Research expanded to hydraulic structures including grade stabilization structures (e.g. low-drop structures, canopy hood inlets, and rock chutes) and standard components of multi-purpose USDA-assisted dams (e.g. trash rack inlets, riprap lined plunge basins, St. Anthony Falls stilling basins, vegetated earthen spillways) designed under the authority of the USDA Small Watershed Program. Today, research (e.g. RCC stepped spillways, erosion of earthen dams) continues on developing standard designs and tools for the rehabilitation of this aging infrastructure. Scientists are committed to technology transfer by working with collaborators from the USDA-NRCS and Kansas State University in the development of computational models, SITES Earth Spillway Erosion Model and WinDAM (Windows Dam Analysis Modules), for predicting erosion of earthen spillways and embankment dams. Due to the nature of the research conducted at the laboratory, scientists have established improved flow measurement (e.g. H-flumes and supercritical flow measuring flume) and soil erodibility methodologies and devices (e.g. JET). The soil erodibility research has ultimately led to refinement in computational models such as WinDAM (Windows Dam Analysis Modules), SITES Earth Spillway Erosion Model, SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool), BSTEM (Bank Stability Toe Erosion Model) among others.

Scientists have been most notably recognized for their pioneering research related to the design concepts for vegetated waterways and the engineering research support to the USDA Small Watershed Program. In 1990 and again in 2011, the laboratory was designated Historic Landmarks in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, first for design concepts for vegetated waterways and second for research conducted in support of the USDA Small Watershed Program.

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Design Concepts for Vegetated Waterways, 1990 & USDA Small Watershed Program, 2011 
Historic Landmarks of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
designated by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.