2015 – Erosion of unlined spillways in rock – does a ‘scour threshold’ exist?

Steven E Pells, Philip J N Pells, William L. Peirson; Kurt Douglas and Robin Fell

The method of Annandale (1995) is widely used by Australian practitioners for the assessment of erosion in unlined spillways. This method is based on comparison to various case studies, where the geology at each site is characterised using the Kirsten index (a rock mass index previously developed to assess the rippability of rock), and the hydraulic conditions are characterised using the unit stream power dissipation. In this paper, the historical development of this comparative design technique is traced and is critically reviewed against the original geotechnical and hydraulic data, and against a new, independent, dataset gained from unlined spillways in fractured rock in Australia, South Africa and the USA. It is shown that, while erosion can be usefully correlated against rock-mass indices and hydraulic indices, this ‘comparative’ design technique has been promoted beyond its reach – the data do not support the inference of an erosion ‘threshold’ as presented by Annandale (1995). It is argued that this type of analysis should be used only as an initial ‘first indication of erosion potential’, as originally proposed by van Schalkwyk (1994b).
Keywords: scour; erosion; spillways.

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