Enviromental Engineering

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Future of Water Resources
(Turn in after discussion on Wednesday, Jan. 10)
Reading assignment: “What is Hydraulic Engineering” – download from our course webpage on
1. In “What is Hydraulic Engineering,” the role of past engineers is described. How has this role changed
and why? What is the challenge for you, the engineer of the present?
2. When building a large project such as a dam, what are the factors that need to be considered? How
have these factors changed in terms of what we value as important?
What Is Hydraulic Engineering?
James A. Liggett1
Abstract: This paper, written to mark ASCE’s 150th anniversary, traces the role of hydraulic engineering from early or mid-twentiethcentury to the beginning of the twenty-first century. A half-century ago hydraulic engineering was central in building the economies of the
United States and many other countries by designing small and large water works. That process entailed a concentrated effort in research
that ranged from the minute details of fluid flow to a general study of economics and ecology. Gradually over the last half-century,
hydraulic engineering has evolved from a focus on large construction projects to now include the role of conservation and preservation.
Although the hydraulic engineer has traditionally had to interface with other disciplines, that aspect of the profession has taken on a new
urgency and, fortunately, is supported by exciting new technological developments. He/she must acquire new skills, in addition to
retaining and improving the traditional skills, and form close partnerships with such fields as ecology, economics, social science, and
DOI: 10.1061/?ASCE?0733-9429?2002?128:1?10?
CE Database keywords: Hydraulic engineering; History.
The answer to the title question will be framed by the experience
of the individual reader. Hydraulic engineering is a broad field
that ranges from the builder to the academic researcher. Without
such a range it would not be the dynamic field that it is and, more
importantly, it could not have contributed to society in the positive way that it has over the past century, and it would not continue to be a viable, challenging, and important profession. To
illustrate the historical perspective to this question, and in so
doing illustrate the evolution of hydraulic engineering, the present
work uses one of the more visible activities involving hydraulic
engineers—large water projects and especially dams in the United
States. The reader, though, should not be misled into neglecting
the myriad of other activities in which hydraulic engineers engage, some—individually or in combination—equally important
to dams. The huge increase over the past 150 years in understanding of flow processes, especially those that occur in nature, and
the associated ability to quantify these processes for analysis, design, and prediction is especially important.
However, the direct answer to what is hydraulic engineering
does not lie solely in its history. The profession has always been
a leader in the use of the latest technology; thus, technological
innovation plays a vital part in the modern practice of hydraulic
engineering. Innovations include modern computation, including
techniques to make detailed flow processes and their complex
Professor Emeritus, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853. E-mail: jal8@cornell.edu
Note. Discussion open until June 1, 2002. Separate discussions must
be submitted for individual papers. To extend the closing date by one
month, a written request must be filed with the ASCE Managing Editor.
The manuscript for this paper was submitted for review and possible
publication on October 8, 2001; approved on October 8, 2001. This paper
is part of the Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, Vol. 128, No. 1, January 1, 2002. ©ASCE, ISSN 0733-9429/2002/1-10–19/$8.00?$.50 per
interactions with other processes easily understandable. They also
include the use of modern electronics for data gathering in the
laboratory and the field and a myriad of other tools such as satellite photography, data transmission, global-positioning satellites, geographical data systems, lasers for laboratory and field
measurement, radar, lidar, and sonar. Most importantly, they include the hydraulic engineer’s interaction with the natural environment and ecology, an interaction that holds great promise and
challenge. Indeed, the challenges of the last century, brilliantly
solved by the collaboration of academics, small and large private
companies, and government action agencies, are being replaced
by new demands that will require even more interchange.
That interchange—not a new theme, but one that is beginning
to dominate the future of hydraulic engineering—is the primary
focus of this paper. First, however, we take a look at where hydraulics has been. A half-century ago the answer to the title question was obvious. The decades at mid-twentieth-century constituted the heydays of hydraulic engineering. It was the big-dam
era, the time of large irrigation projects, large power projects,
large flood-control projects, large navigation projects—large
projects! Strangely, that era was short lived, at least in the United
States, because of economic and ecological considerations. It
lasted only about a half-century. Where does that leave hydraulic
engineering at the beginning of the 21st century? What is hydraulic engineering now in an era of substantially increasing interdisciplinary developments?
A Time of Construction
Fig. 1 shows the history of dam construction in the United States
from 1902 to 1987 in five-year periods. Immediately after World
War II, dam construction surged, but it tapered off to very little by
the late 1980s. Table 1 shows the largest U.S. dam projects, approximately 10 by height of dam and approximately 10 by reservoir size. All the projects on the list were completed between
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Fig. 1. A summary of dam building in the United States, 1902–1987
?Redrawn from Rhone 1988?
1936 and 1979. It is remarkable that dam building—or at least the
largest dams—in the United States occurred in about a halfcentury.
The prevailing philosophy, both in society and in engineering,
in the early and midparts of the century was that we could conquer nature and put it to the use of mankind. In particular, the
case for dam building was compelling: dams provided flood control; they provided storage for irrigation and water supply, especially important in the arid west; they provided ?what was then? a
substantial amount of electrical power; and they provided recreation. The success of Hoover Dam ?1936? as one of the nation’s
monumental construction projects—the largest attempted up to
that time in the United States and the world—seemed to prove the
point. As Reisner ?1986? said, Hoover Dam’s ‘‘turbines would
power the aircraft industry that helped defeat Hitler, would light
up downtown Los Angeles and 100 other cities. Hoover Dam
proved it could be done.’’ ?Appendix I, Economics and War? The
total number of dams in the United States grew to 75,000. Hydraulic engineers were building the U.S. economy ?with a bit of
credit to the structural engineers who designed and built the struc-
tural aspects of water resource projects? and, perhaps, we suffered
a bit from the ‘‘monument syndrome’’ ?Hirshleifer et al. 1960?.
Of course it was not all dams. Flood control, irrigation, water
supply, groundwater, and many other areas of civil engineering
were the subjects of hydraulic engineering, and activity in those
areas was equally vigorous. Although structural engineering
would continue to employ more than any other specialty of civil
engineering, hydraulic engineering was the glamour specialty and
was surging. The big-dam era is symbolic, but hydraulic engineering in the twentieth century was about much more. The following
were some other notable projects, to name a few.
The California Water Projects. Southern California, a region with a large population and little water, began its search for
water in 1904 with the Owens Valley Project ?completed 1913?.
After the construction of Hoover Dam and Parker Dam, the Colorado River supplied water to California to supplement that from
Owens Valley. In an insatiable search for more, the California
State Water Project was begun in 1960 to bring water from Northern California ?Oroville Dam on the Feather River? to Southern
California ?Fig. 2?. All of these projects have generated controversy, but they have enabled Southern California to grow and
have opened the region, especially the Central Valley, to supply
fruits and vegetables that feed the nation.
The Central Arizona Project. Dams along the Salt River, primarily Theodore Roosevelt Dam ?1911, the first multipurpose
project constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation?, supplied
water for irrigation and domestic use to the Salt River Valley. The
Central Arizona Project ?completed in the 1980s? transfers water
to the cities of Phoenix and Tucson from the Colorado River. It
consists of an aqueduct ?336 miles long? from the southern end of
Lake Havasu ?Parker Dam? and includes 15 pumping plants, 3
tunnels, and a dam with storage reservoir ?New Waddell Dam and
Lake Pleasant?.
The Arkansas River Project. The Arkansas River Navigation
System was approved by Congress in 1946 and completed in
Table 1. Largest Dams and Reservoirs in the United States
Glen Canyon
New Bullards Bar
New Melones
New Don Pedro
Hungry Horse
Grand Coulee
Fort Peck
Wolf Creek
Fort Randall
Flaming Gorge
Toleda Bend
Reservoir Cap
(m3 ?109 )
North Fork Clearwater
North Yuba
South Fork Flathead
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Fig. 2. The Wind Gap pumps. A part of the water delivery system to
Southern California, the A. D. Edmonston Pumping Plant lifts water
nearly 2,000 feet up the Tehachapi Mountains where it then crosses
through a series of tunnels to the Los Angeles Basin. It, along with
other projects, enables the cities of Southern California to grow and
prosper in an arid climate.
1971. It controls flooding and provides a navigable waterway for
shipment of agricultural products, lumber, petroleum, and coal by
means of 17 dams and locks along the waterway.
The Mississippi River Navigation and Flood Control Projects. Work on the Mississippi River has been continuing for so
long that it seems almost forgotten as a major hydraulic engineering feat. The Mississippi River Commission, created by act of
Congress in 1879, is responsible for flood control and navigation
along the river ?Fig. 3?. The main stages of the navigation improvement program included a channel 9-feet deep and 250-feet
wide at low water between Cairo, Illinois, and Baton Rouge,
Louisiana ?authorized in 1896?, widening of the channel to 300
feet ?1928?, and deepening to 12 feet ?1944?. Channel improvement and maintenance are still under way along with a ship channel 45-feet deep from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico ?authorized 1945?. In the upper part of the river, 29 locks and dams have
been constructed to create a 9-foot-deep channel to MinneapolisSt. Paul. It has become part of vast inland waterway from the
Gulf of Mexico and Florida to Canada, the Great Lakes, and the
St. Lawrence Seaway. After the flood of 1927, the Corps of Engineers began the process of levee construction. From Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi is encased in levees and sea walls, as is much of the river to the north.
The Mississippi projects have enabled the city of New Orleans to
exist, have opened the central United States to the economic
transportation of goods, and have enabled agricultural production
unparalleled in the history of the world.
The Tennessee River. In 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority
?TVA? was established for the multiple purposes of flood control,
navigation, electrical power, water supply, and, importantly, for
the economic development of a previously depressed region. TVA
has made the Tennessee one of the most controlled rivers in the
This small sample indicates the importance of hydraulic engineering in mid-twentieth-century. All projects mentioned herein
are in the United States, but similar activity took place throughout
much of the world. Although the construction of big dams has
ceased in the United States ?Seven Oaks Dam ?Southern California, completed in 1999? would not have made the list in Table 1 at
168-m high, but it is of substantial size, and was constructed for
flood control?, it continues in some parts of the world. These and
other projects graphically illustrate the paradigm of controlling
nature for the benefit of mankind. There is no question that they
have brought great economic benefit to the entire nation and,
regionally, to the areas in which they were constructed. Indeed,
the first half of the twentieth century was a little Dark Age in the
United States marked by the great depression and two world wars.
Those who might criticize the engineering accomplishments of
that time from a distance have not had to live under such conditions. For example, the TVA has transformed a poor, underdeveloped area of the country into one rich in energy resources and
agricultural opportunities. If the title question on this paper had
been ‘‘What was hydraulic engineering?’’ these, along with many
other large projects and innumerable small ones, such as municipal water supply and groundwater management, certainly supply
the answer.
A Time of Enlightenment
Fig. 3. The Mississippi River near Muscatine, Iowa. The photo illustrates the barge traffic on the river ?‘‘tows,’’ although the barges
are actually pushed by the tug?. The series of pools is a fish hatchery.
This site is near the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research Mississippi
Riverside Environment Research Station, which is intended to study
ecology and environmental considerations along the river.
The compelling promise of large water-control projects and other
hydraulic works was fulfilled completely. That activity was accompanied by a sort of revolution in knowledge and rational
analysis that took place in engineering in the 1950s and 1960s.
First, engineering had discovered its scientific basis. In hydraulic
engineering, the landmark events were the publication of Rouse’s
?1938? book Fluid Mechanics for Hydraulic Engineers and Vennard’s ?1940? book Elementary Fluid Mechanics. These books
and their followers set apart the teaching of hydraulics, a mostly
empirical subject, from fluid mechanics, a subject based on mathematical analysis. Other branches of engineering were showing a
parallel change. Rational analysis had become popular. This development created an optimism that with the proper mathematical
analysis we could solve many nagging problems that were holding back progress.
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Fig. 4. Plume dynamics. The use of a multitude of sensors for velocity and concentration of substances coupled with satellite data
transmission and used in 3D numerical modeling to solve pollution
problems in waterways, lakes, and oceans is illustrated. Adapted from
Roberts ?1999?.
Second, the computer became a practical tool for engineers in
the latter half of the century. First used as a research tool in the
late 1950s, their use spread to the engineering office in the 1960s
and 1970s. Although numerical methods had been a sophisticated
subject long before automatic computation, it now took on practical importance and held the promise to solve those equations
that were presented in elementary and advanced fluid mechanics
courses. Now, we believed, we really were on the verge of solving
all the practical and relevant hydraulic engineering problems.
The first such solutions were those that we had been taught in
the classroom but were laborious. Examples included the steadystate solution of pipe network problems and the calculation of
open-channel flow profiles. Finally, hydraulic engineers had
gained the ability to solve such problems as unsteady openchannel flow ?Isaacson et al. 1954?, but we learned from this development that simply plugging the equations into the computer
was not an easy process. In fact the solution by Isaacson et al.
?1954?, the mathematicians, was largely a failure, and we had to
await the advancement by Preissmann ?1961?–a mathematician
working for an engineering consultant, Sogreah—to show the
way. The devil was in the details; it was not simply a mathematical exercise but required engineering judgement to determine
which of the details were important and which could be ignored.
For the first time, our multidimensional and time-dependent
problems seemed within our grasp ?Fig. 4?. The dimensional approximation ?i.e., approximating a fundamentally 3D problem in
two dimensions or a 2D problem in one dimension? was not always necessary. These developments led us to believe that it was
only a matter of ?a short? time before hydraulic engineering became a science almost as rational as physics. The world was filled
with meaningful, interesting, and economically important problems, and we were gaining the means to solve them. It was a great
Time of New Challenges
If there was a single turning point it was probably the construction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in northern
Arizona. Environmentalists, primarily the Sierra Club, had criticized the dam since its inception. Glen Canyon is essentially the
uppermost part of the Grand Canyon ?Appendix, Glen Canyon?,
one of the jewels in the system of national monuments. To build
power dams in the Grand Canyon seemed rather like harnessing
the thermal energy of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park
or using Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls for electrical power. Although such projects would be rejected by society today, it is
interesting to recall a long-since forgotten plan proposed at the
turn of the twentieth century by the English physicist and hydropower consultant Lord Kelvin ?Burton 1992? to turn Niagara Falls
into a grand hydropower plant ?and, indeed, hydropower is currently being produced at that site?.
Other dams have been proposed for the Grand Canyon area.
The two most notable are Marble Canyon Dam ?abandoned in the
1960s? and Bridge Canyon Dam ?sometimes called Hualapai Dam
as it is on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. It was officially canceled in 1984 but still shown as a dam site on many Arizona
maps? …
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