Articles | Volume 15, issue 8
Research article
30 Aug 2011
Research article |  | 30 Aug 2011

Discharge estimation in a backwater affected meandering river

H. Hidayat, B. Vermeulen, M. G. Sassi, P. J. J. F. Torfs, and A. J. F. Hoitink

Abstract. Variable effects of backwaters complicate the development of rating curves at hydrometric measurement stations. In areas influenced by backwater, single-parameter rating curve techniques are often inapplicable. To overcome this, several authors have advocated the use of an additional downstream level gauge to estimate the longitudinal surface level gradient, but this is cumbersome in a lowland meandering river with considerable transverse surface level gradients. Recent developments allow river flow to be continuously monitored through velocity measurements with an acoustic Doppler current profiler (H-ADCP), deployed horizontally at a river bank. This approach was adopted to obtain continuous discharge estimates at a cross-section in the River Mahakam at a station located about 300 km upstream of the river mouth in the Mahakam delta. The discharge station represents an area influenced by variable backwater effects from lakes, tributaries and floodplain ponds, and by tides. We applied both the standard index velocity method and a recently developed methodology to obtain a continuous time-series of discharge from the H-ADCP data. Measurements with a boat-mounted ADCP were used for calibration and validation of the model to translate H-ADCP velocity to discharge. As a comparison with conventional discharge estimation techniques, a stage-discharge relation using Jones formula was developed. The discharge rate at the station exceeded 3250 m3 s−1. Discharge series from a traditional stage-discharge relation did not capture the overall discharge dynamics, as inferred from H-ADCP data. For a specific river stage, the discharge range could be as high as 2000 m3 s−1, which is far beyond what could be explained from kinematic wave dynamics. Backwater effects from lakes were shown to be significant, whereas interaction of the river flow with tides may impact discharge variation in the fortnightly frequency band. Fortnightly tides cannot easily be isolated from river discharge variation, which features similar periodicities.