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Virginia Bridge Scour Pilot Study—Hydrological Tools

Prepared in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Transportation

First posted October 18, 2022

For additional information, contact:

Director, Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center nter

U.S. Geological Survey

1730 East Parham Road

Richmond, Virginia 23228


Hydrologic and geophysical components interact to produce streambed scour. This study investigates methods for improving the utility of estimates of hydrologic flow in streams and rivers used when evaluating potential pier scour over the design-life of highway bridges in Virginia. Recent studies of streambed composition identify potential bridge design cost savings when attributes of cohesive soil and weathered rock unique to certain streambeds are considered within the bridge planning design. To achieve potential cost savings, however, attributes and effects of scour forces caused by water movement across the streambed surface must be accurately described and estimated.

This study explores the potential for improving estimates of the hydrologic component, namely hydrologic flow, afforded by empirically based deterministic, probabilistic, and statistical modeling of flows using streamgage data from 10 selected sites in Virginia. Methods are described and tools are provided that may assist with estimating hydrological components of flow duration and potential cumulative stream power for bridge designs in specific settings, and calculation of comprehensive projections of anticipated individual bridge pier scour rates. Examples of hydrologic properties needed to determine the rates of streambed scour are described for sites spanning a range of basin sizes and locations in Virginia. Deterministic, probabilistic, and statistical modeling methods are demonstrated for estimating hydrological components of streambed scour over a bridge design lifespan. Eight tools provide examples of streamflow analysis using daily and instantaneous streamflow data collected at 10 study sites in Virginia. Tool 1 provides a generalized system dynamics model of streamflow and sediment motion that may be used to estimate hydrologic flow over time. Tool 2 illustrates at-a-station hydraulic geometry using methods pioneered by Leopold and others. Tool 3 provides a system dynamics model developed to test the use of Monte-Carlo sampling of instantaneous streamflow measurements to augment and increase precision of site-specific period-of-record daily-flow values useful for driving stream-power and streambed scour estimates. Tool 4 integrates deterministic modeling, maximum likelihood logistic regression, and Monte-Carlo sampling to identify probable hydrologic flows. Tool 5 provides instantaneous flow hydrologic envelope profiles, using measured instantaneous flow data integrated with measured daily-flow value data. Tool 6 provides precise estimates of hydrologic flow over entire data time-series suitable for driving scour simulation models. Tool 7 provides a threshold of flow and probability of time-under-load interactive calculator that allows selection of a desired bridge design lifespan, ranging from 1 to 250 years, and identification of a flow interval of interest. Tool 8 provides a flow-random sampling interactive tool, developed to facilitate easy access to large datasets of randomly sampled flow data measurements from unique locations for purposes of computing and testing future models of bridge pier scour.

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