Articles | Volume 21, issue 7
Technical note
06 Jul 2017
Technical note |  | 06 Jul 2017

Technical note: Design flood under hydrological uncertainty

Anna Botto, Daniele Ganora, Pierluigi Claps, and Francesco Laio

Abstract. Planning and verification of hydraulic infrastructures require a design estimate of hydrologic variables, usually provided by frequency analysis, and neglecting hydrologic uncertainty. However, when hydrologic uncertainty is accounted for, the design flood value for a specific return period is no longer a unique value, but is represented by a distribution of values. As a consequence, the design flood is no longer univocally defined, making the design process undetermined.

The Uncertainty Compliant Design Flood Estimation (UNCODE) procedure is a novel approach that, starting from a range of possible design flood estimates obtained in uncertain conditions, converges to a single design value. This is obtained through a cost–benefit criterion with additional constraints that is numerically solved in a simulation framework. This paper contributes to promoting a practical use of the UNCODE procedure without resorting to numerical computation. A modified procedure is proposed by using a correction coefficient that modifies the standard (i.e., uncertainty-free) design value on the basis of sample length and return period only. The procedure is robust and parsimonious, as it does not require additional parameters with respect to the traditional uncertainty-free analysis.

Simple equations to compute the correction term are provided for a number of probability distributions commonly used to represent the flood frequency curve. The UNCODE procedure, when coupled with this simple correction factor, provides a robust way to manage the hydrologic uncertainty and to go beyond the use of traditional safety factors. With all the other parameters being equal, an increase in the sample length reduces the correction factor, and thus the construction costs, while still keeping the same safety level.

Short summary
The paper provides an easy-to-use implementation of the UNCODE framework, which allows one to estimate the design flood value by directly accounting for sample uncertainty. Other than a design tool, this methodology is also a practical way to quantify the value of data in the design process.