Chapter 4 - SELECTION OF WATER MEASURING DEVICES
3. Selection Considerations
The main factors which influence the selection of a measuring device include:
The target or desired accuracy of the measurement system is an important consideration in measurement method selection. Most water measurement devices can produce accuracies of +5 percent. Some devices are capable of +1 percent under laboratory settings. However, in the field, maintaining such accuracies usually requires considerable expense or effort (e.g., special construction, recalibration, maintenance, etc.). Selecting a device that is not appropriate for the site conditions can result in a nonstandard installation of reduced accuracy, sometimes greater than +10 percent.
Accuracies are usually reported for the primary measurement method or device. However, many methods rely on a secondary measurement, which typically adds error to the overall measurement. For example, the primary calibration for a weir is the relationship between head and discharge; this relationship typically contains a small error. However, the head must be measured, which potentially introduces additional error. Chapters 3 and 8 contain discussion and examples concerning the influence of secondary devices on accuracy.
The cost of the measurement method includes the cost of the device itself, the installation, secondary devices, and operation and maintenance. Measurement methods vary widely in their cost and in their serviceable life span. Measurement methods are often selected based on the initial cost of the primary device with insufficient regard for the additional costs associated with providing the desired records of flows over an extended period of time.
(c) Legal Constraints
Governmental or administrative water board requirements may dictate types of accepted water measurement devices or methods. Water measurement devices which become a standard in one geographic area are often not accepted as a standard in another area. In this sense, the term "standard" does not necessarily signify accuracy or broad legal acceptance. Many water districts require certain water measurement devices used within the district to conform to their standard for the purpose of simplifying operation and maintenance.
(d) Flow Range
Many measurement methods have a limited range of flow conditions for which they are applicable. This range is usually related to the need for certain prescribed flow conditions which are assumed in the development of calibrations. Large errors in measurement can occur when the flow is outside this range. For example, using a bucket and stopwatch for large flows that engulf the bucket is not very accurate. Similarly, sharp-edged devices typically do not give good results with large flows, which are better measured with large flumes or broad-crested weirs.
In some cases, secondary devices can limit the practical range of flow rates. For example, with devices requiring a head measurement, the accuracy of the head measurement can limit the measurement of low flow rates. For some devices, accuracy is based on percent of the full-scale value. Then, at low values, the resulting accuracy is much lower, limiting the usefulness of such measurements. Generally, the device should be selected to cover the range desired. Choosing a device that can handle a larger than necessary flow rate could result in elimination of measurement capability at lower flow rates, and vice versa. For practical reasons, it may be reasonable to establish different accuracy requirements for high and low flows. Examples in chapter 3 discuss some of these problems in more detail.
(e) Head Loss
Most water measurement devices require a drop in head. On existing irrigation projects, such additional head may not be available, especially in areas with relatively flat topography. On new projects, incorporating additional head loss into the design can usually be accomplished at reasonable cost. However, a tradeoff usually exists between the cost of the device and the amount of head loss. For example, acoustic flowmeters are expensive and require little head loss; sharp-crested weirs are inexpensive but require a relatively large head loss. The head loss required for a particular measurement device usually varies over the range of discharges. In some cases, head used in measuring flow can reduce the capacity of the channel at that point.
(f) Adaptability to Site Conditions
The selection of a measurement device must consider the site of the proposed measurement. Several potential sites may be available for a given measurement; the selection of a device depends upon the exact site chosen. For example, discharge in a canal system can be measured within a reach of the channel or at a structure such as a culvert or check structure. A different device would typically be selected for each site. The device selected should not alter site hydraulic conditions so as to interfere with normal operation and maintenance. Also, the shape of the flow cross section will likely favor some devices over others. For example, the Parshall flume size selection process described in chapter 5 might result in a flume wider than the existing channel, adding substantial cost to the installation, whereas a long-throated flume might fit within the existing channel prism.
(g) Adaptability to Variable Operating Conditions
Most water delivery systems have a varying range of flows and conditions. The selected device must also be able to measure over the range of operating conditions encountered (e.g., variations in upstream and downstream head). Devices like weirs or flumes should be avoided if downstream water levels can, under some conditions, submerge the device. In addition, the information provided by the measuring device needs to be useful for the operators performing their duties. Devices that are difficult and time consuming to operate are less apt to be used and are more likely to be used incorrectly.
In some cases, water measurement and water level or flow control need to be accomplished at the same site. A few devices are available for accomplishing both (e.g., constant-head orifice, vertically movable weirs, and Neyrpic flow module) (Bos, 1989). However, separate measurement and control devices are typically linked for this purpose. Special care is needed to assure that devices are compatible and, when used as a system, achieve both functions.
(h) Type of Measurements and Records Needed
An accurate measure of instantaneous flow rate is useful for system operators in setting and verifying flow rate. However, because flow rates change over time, a single, instantaneous reading may not accurately reflect the total volume of water delivered. Where accounting for water volume is desired, a method of accumulated individual flow measurements is needed. Where flows are steady, daily measurements may be sufficient to infer total volume. Most deliveries, however, require more frequent measurements. Totaliza-tion is essential where water users take water on demand. Totalizers and automatic recording devices are available for many measurement devices. For large structures, the cost for water-level sensing and recording hardware is small relative to the structure cost; but for small structures, these hardware costs do not change and thus become a major part of the measurement cost (often more costly than the structure itself).
Many water measurement methods are suitable for making temporary measurements (flow surveys) or performing occasional verification checks of other devices. The method chosen for such a measurement might be quite different from that chosen for continuous monitoring. Although many of these flow survey methods are discussed in this manual, this chapter focuses on methods for permanent installations.
(i) Operating Requirements
Some measurement methods require manual labor to obtain a measurement. Current metering requires a trained staff with specialized equipment. Pen-and-ink style water-stage recorders need operators to change paper, add ink, and verify proper functioning. Manual recording of flows may require forms to be filled out and data to be accumulated for accounting purposes. Devices with manometers require special care and attention to assure correct differential head readings. Automated devices such as ultrasonic flowmeters and other systems that use transducers and electronics require operator training to set up, adjust, and troubleshoot problems. Setting gate controlled flow rates by simple canal level references or by current metering commonly requires several hours of waiting between gate changes for the downstream canal to fill and stabilize. However, flumes and weirs serve to quickly reach measured flow rate without waiting for the downstream canals to fill to stable conditions. The requirements of the operating personnel in using the devices and techniques for their desired purposes can be easily overlooked and must be considered in meter selection.
(j) Ability to Pass Sediment and Debris
Canal systems often carry a significant amount of sediment in the water. Removal of all suspended solids from the water is usually prohibitively expensive. Thus, some sediment will likely be deposited anywhere the velocities are reduced, which typically occurs near flow measuring structures. Whether this sediment causes a problem depends on the specific structure and the volume of sediment in the water. In some cases, this problem simply requires routine maintenance to remove accumulated sediment; in others, the accumulation can make the flow measurement inaccurate or the device inoperative. Sediment deposits can affect approach conditions and increase approach velocity in front of weirs, flumes, and orifices. Floating and suspended debris such as aquatic plants, washed out bank plants, and debris such as fallen tree leaves and twigs can plug some flow measurement devices and cause significant flow measurement problems. Many of the measurement devices which are successfully used in closed conduits (e.g., orifices, propeller meters, etc.) are not usable in culverts or inverted siphons because of debris in the water. Attempting to remove this debris at the entrance to culverts is an additional maintenance problem.
(k) Device Environment
Any measurement device with moving parts or sensors is subject to failure if it is not compatible with the site environment. Achieving proper operation and longevity of devices is an important selection factor. Very cold weather can shrink moving and fixed parts differentially and solidify oil and grease. Water can freeze around parts and plug pressure ports and passageways. Acidity and alkalinity in water can corrode metal parts. Water contaminants such as waste solvents can damage lubricants, protective coatings, and plastic parts. Mineral encrustation and biological growths can impair moving parts and plug pressure transmitting ports. Sediment can abrade parts or consolidate tightly in bearing and runner spaces in devices such as propeller meters. Measurement of wastewater and high sediment transport flow may preclude the use of devices that require pressure taps, intrusive sensors, or depend upon clear transmission of sound through the flow. Water measurement devices that depend on electronic devices and transducers must have appropriate protective housings for harsh environments. Improper protection against the site environment can cause equipment failure or loss of accuracy.
(l) Maintenance Requirements
The type and amount of maintenance varies widely with different measurement methods. For example, current metering requires periodic maintenance of the current meter itself and maintenance of the meter site to assure that is has a known cross section and velocity distribution. When the flow carries sediment or debris, most weirs, flumes, and orifices require periodic cleaning of the approach channel. Electronic sensors need occasional maintenance to assure that they are performing properly. Regular maintenance programs are recommended to ensure prolonged measurement quality for all types of devices.
(m) Construction and Installation Requirements
In addition to installation costs, the difficulty of installation and the need to retrofit parts of the existing conveyance system can complicate the selection of water measurement devices. Clearly, devices which can be easily retrofit into the existing canal system are much preferred because they generally require less down time, and unforeseen problems can be avoided.
(n) Device Standardization and Calibration
A standard water measurement device infers a documented history of performance based on theory, controlled calibration, and use. A truly standard device has been fully described, accurately calibrated, correctly constructed, properly installed, and sufficiently maintained to fulfill the original installation requirements and flow condition limitations. Discharge equations and tables for standard devices should provide accurate calibration. Maintaining a standard device usually only involves a visual check and measurement of a few specified items or dimensions to ensure that the measuring device has not departed from the standard. Many standard devices have a long history of use and calibration and, thus, are potentially more reliable. Commercial availability of a device does not necessarily guarantee that it satisfies the requirements of a standard device.
When measuring devices are fabricated onsite or are poorly installed, small deviations from the specified dimensions can occur. These deviations may or may not affect the calibration. The difficulty is that unless an as-built calibration is performed, the degree to which these errors affect the accuracy of the measurements is unknown. All too frequently, design deviations are made under the misconception that current metering can be used to provide an accurate field calibration. In practice, calibration by current metering to within +2 percent is difficult to attain. An adequate calibration for free-flow conditions requires many current meter measurements at several discharges. Changing and maintaining a constant discharge is often difficult under field conditions.
(o) Field Verification, Troubleshooting, and Repair
After construction or installation of a device, some verification of the calibration is generally recommended. Usually, the methods used to verify a permanent device (e.g., current metering) are less accurate than the device itself. However, this verification simply serves as a check against gross errors in construction or calibration. For some devices, errors occur as components wear and the calibration slowly drifts away from the original. Other devices have components that simply failCthat is, you get the correct reading or no reading at all. The latter is clearly preferred. However, for many devices, occa-sional checking is required to assure that they are still performing as intended. Selection of devices may depend on how they fail and how easy it is to verify that they are performing properly.
(p) User Acceptance of New Methods
Selection of a water measurement method must also consider the past history of the practice at the site. When improved water measurement methods are needed, proposing changes that build on established practice are generally easier to institute than radical changes. It can be beneficial to select a new method that allows conversion to take place in stages to provide educational examples and demonstrations of the new devices and procedures.
(q) Vandalism Potential
Instrumentation located near public access is a prime target for vandalism. Where vandalism is a problem, measurement devices with less instrumentation, or instrumentation that can be easily protected, are preferred. When needed, instrumentation can be placed in a buried vault to minimize visibility.
(r) Impact on Environment
During water measurement device selection, consideration must be given to potential environmental impacts. Water measurement devices vary greatly in the amount of disruption to existing conditions needed to install, meet standard upstream and downstream conditions, operate, and maintain. For example, installing a weir or flume constricts the channel, slows upstream flow, and accelerates flow within the structure. These changes in the flow conditions can alter local channel erosion, local flooding, public safety, local aquatic habitat, and fish movement up and down the channel. These factors may alter the cost and selection of a measurement device.