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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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The Hydraulic Engineering Research Unit near Stillwater, OK has been in continuous operation since it was established in 1940. A large gravity flow water supply and ample land area makes the laboratory unique among hydraulic laboratories around the world.  The laboratory occupies 40.5 hectares (100 acres) of open land with sufficient slope for supplying water to outdoor experiments.  The adjacent 3,000 acre Lake Carl Blackwell supplies nearly an unlimited amount of water at rates ranging from a trickle to nearly 3.7 cubic meters per second (130 cubic feet per second).  Canals and pipelines convey the flow to both indoor and outdoor experiments.  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.

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. 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 hydraulic structures, especially components of flood control dams, including trash racks, cantilever pipe outlets, grade control structures, and riprap design for rock chutes and stilling basins.  The most notable research projects are the pioneer work in the design concepts for vegetated waterways and the engineering research support of the USDA Small Watershed Program. These research programs resulted in the laboratory being recognized by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers as "Historic Landmarks of Agricultural and Biological Engineering"  for the design concepts for vegetated waterways  and for the engineering research support of the USDA Small Watershed Program in 1990 and 2011, respectively.  Today, the research conducted at the Hydraulic Engineering Research Unit is a necessary component to the work on rehabilitation of aging flood control dams across Oklahoma and the Nation. This research helps protect public health and safety by resulting in safer structures that prevent failures during large storms.

Design Concepts for Vegetated Waterways - A Historic Landmark of Agricultural Engineers

Rainfall runoff causes severe gully erosion on unprotected lands and has ruined thousands of US acres in the past. Concepts were developed at this site for vegetation-lined waterways that now safely convey runoff water from millions of acres.

Engineers of the US Soil conservation Service (SCS) initiated studies on hydraulics of vegetated waterways at an outdoor laboratory near Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1935. Under the direction of W.O. Ree this laboratory was transferred to Lake Carl Blackwell near Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 1940.

These studies produced design procedures for over 500,000 miles of waterways designed and constructed by the SCS. The importance of this work can be seen in the extensive use of vegetated waterways on farms, adjoin highways, and in other areas. 

Dedicated by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers 1990   



USDA Small Watershed Program - A Historic Landmark of Agricultural Engineers

Since 1948, over 11,00 dams and associated conservation practices in more than 2,000 watershed projects encompassing 160 million acres in 47 states have been constructed as a part of the USDA Small Watershed Program. These projects have improved the quality of life and the environment in rural communities by protecting people's lives and property, conserving soil and water resources, reducing flooding, providing economic development, recreation, and water supplies, enhancing water quality, and Improving wetlands and wildlife habitat.

The program established the principle of combining consecration practices in a watershed with flood control dams on tributary stream. In order to implement this program, innovations in engineering, hydraulics, hydrology, and soil mechanics were developed by USDA Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Services) and Agricultural Research Service engineers and scientist.

The program was created by the Flood control Acts of 1936 and 1944 and expanded nationwide by the watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954.

Oklahoma is a national leader in the Small Watershed Program with several national "first", including the first dam construct in July 1948 and the first dam rehabilitated in April 2000.

Dedicated by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers 2011





Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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