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15

Inflatable Rubber Weirs


15.1 INTRODUCTION
Inflatable rubber dams are long tubular shaped fabrics placed across watercourses
to impound or regulate storage behind them. On an ungated spillway crest or top
of a dam, they serve to increase and regulate reservoir storage. Placed on the sill
of a low-height diversion weir for an irrigation or power generation project, they
function as gates to provide automatic flushing of sediment through deflation at
the time of floods, thus eliminating the need for settling tanks. They also serve
as the barrier between fresh and salt water or as a storm surge barrier protecting
a delta. Rubber weirs are being increasingly used on several projects in Japan,
USA, Australia, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, etc. Despite having peculiar prob-
lems of design and installation, rubber weirs offer significant advantages in re-
spect of dependability, simplicity of operation, and maintenance.
15.2 PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS OF A RUBBER WEIR
A typical rubber weir installation consists of an upper structure (rubber tube), a
lower structure (concrete sill or foundation), and an operating system. Figure 1
shows schematic details of a typical rubber weir installation.
A large tube is made of a thick rubberized fabric, anchored at the base and
sides. This, obviously, is the most important element in the entire installation, as
it has to resist the water load due to impounding, peripheral tension due to infla-
tion, wear and abrasion due to passing of debris and other floating material during
overflow, and fatigue caused due to alternate inflation and deflation. During
certain conditions of overflow, it may also be subjected to vibrations. Rubberized
fabrics are, therefore, composed of nylon fabric reinforcement for internal strength
and coating with protective material like EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene
Monomer) layers as also stainless steel meshes and ceramic chips. These materials
313
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Chapter 15 314
Figure 1 Schematic details of a typical rubber weir installation.
afford protection against ozone and ultraviolet light, abrasion, knife cutting, and
fatigue. It is claimed that a coating with steel-mesh reinforcement will prevent
fatigue failure until 1000 cycles of inflation and deflation.
The height of the rubber weir is normally up to 3 m. There is practically
no restriction on the width. A single unit may have width up to 200 m and several
such units can be placed side by side. The 8.2 m high rubber weir on river Ijssel,
Netherlands, is perhaps the highest weir constructed so far.
The thickness of the rubber material is related to the height of the weir and
varies from 8.6 mm for heights less than 1 m, to 22.5 mm for heights up to
6 m. Generally, the rubber fabric will have a life expectancy ranging from 25 to
40 years. Figure 2 shows crosssections of a rubber dam fabric with different
types of protective coating.
Ishimura (1995) has described a method of protecting the rubberized fabric
from impact of boulders by placing a cushion inside the tube which, when de-
flated, helps absorb the impact as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 2 Crosssections of rubber dam fabrics. (Tam et al. 1999)
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Inflatable Rubber Weirs 315
Figure 3 Cushion to absorb the impact loads (shown in Ishimura 1995).
The lower structure consists of concrete sill along with side walls that
provide for anchorage of the rubber weir and is designed as per the standard
procedure. Generally, the unfolded shape of the rubber membrane is rectangular
across the width of the foundation with triangular ends, which represent the side
slopes of the river channel. The membrane is anchored on its periphery with
anchor lines on the upstream and downstream. These two lines meet at the vertex
of the side slope.
Rubber weirs are filled either with air or water. The obvious advantages
of filling with air are: speedy inflation/deflation, absence of freezing problems,
and near circular shape of the crosssection that occupies comparatively lesser
width at the foundation than water filled weir. However, overflow on the air
filled rubber weirs is restricted to about 20% of its height, against about 50%
height permissible with the water filled weirs. The pressure inside the weir is
expressed as the pressure above the atmosphere.
The operating system provides for the inflation/deflation as per the water
level upstream of the weir. Both water and air can be used to inflate the weir,
but the air is preferred in view of the short time required for the process. Water
filling is resorted to when stability of the weir against uplift due to ground water
or waves is required. The 8.2 m high weir on river Ijssel in the Netherlands is
partly filled with water and partly with air, to optimize the advantages of both.
Inflation is generally done with a blower of the required capacity whereas defla-
tion is through natural exhaust.
15.3 DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS
15.3.1 Hydraulic Design
The design in respect to the height and length of the weir, depth of overflow,
etc. is finalized as per the standard procedure, taking into account the functions
to be performed by the weir such as irrigation, flood control, power generation,
etc. The special features of design in respect of rubber weirs are: sequence of
inflation/deflation and measures for preventing vibrations.
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Chapter 15 316
Sequence of Inflation/deflation
In operating a rubber weir, its performance must be determined to secure the
safety of the weir itself and the intake function and to assure the absence of
adverse influences on both the upstream and downstream river channels. Since
pumping/withdrawal of large volumes of air/water is involved in the process of
inflation/deflation, the time taken in the process can be longer and may influence
the rate of raising/lowering of the river water levels, which in turn affect the
performance of the weir in accomplishing the objectives.
The design philosophy would be clear by the example of the inflatable
rubber weir for the Kurotani power station, Japan, as described by Ishimura
(1995). The 6 m high rubber weir will be subjected up to the design maximum
discharge of 1120 cumec with a design flood water level of El 679.5 m, the top
of the weir in inflated position being at El 678 m with the sill of the concrete
structure at El 672 m. The weir is to divert a discharge of 12 cumec for generation
of 19.6 MW of power. The weir is located in the mountainous reach where the
river carries sediment load up to boulders of 6070 cm in size. To prevent deposi-
tion upstream of the weir and in the vicinity of the power intake, the rubber weir
has to be kept deflated as long as the flow rate is large enough to move the
riverbed armor coat. The displacement limit flow rate, calculated from the armor
coat grain size measured at the site in question, was about 35 cumec. Thus, the
weir will be deflated as soon as the discharge exceeds 35 cumec. Just as the
deflation begins, the water level in the downstream starts to rise. Since there is
a statutory restriction on the maximum rate of rise, of 3050 cm/30 min, the rate
of deflation has to be in consonance with this. However, if the rate of deflation
happens to be slower, it will result in a too fast rising of water level on the
upstream because of continuous increase in the discharge. Thus, this calls for
another threshold value of the discharge by when the deflation should be com-
pleted. In the present case, the deflation is to be completed before the discharge
exceeds 150 cumec. The result of the analysis was:
Deflation
Upstream water level: El 678.80 m (overflow depth 0.8 m)
Discharge: 31.8 cumec and increasing
Duration: 120 min, speed 1.019 cm/min
Inflation
Upstream water level : El 672.44 m ( overflow depth 0.44 m )
Discharge : 31.8 cumec and decreasing
Duration : 90 min, speed 1.59 cm/min
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Inflatable Rubber Weirs 317
In the above example, the deposition of sediment upstream of the weir
was a key parameter in determining the inflation/deflation cycle. Similar other
parameters could be controlling the spread of pollutants, cooling water require-
ments of thermal power plants, water releases for fish, etc.
Flow induced vibrations
During overflow on the inflated rubber dams, vibrations might result from the
fluid-structure interactions. Ogihara et al. (1985) have analyzed this in detail.
The source of the fluid-structure interaction and resulting vibration of the structure
is believed to be the Coanda effect. This effect happens when the overflowing
nappe adheres to the downstream face of the weir which leads to the flow instabil-
ity at the base of the nappe (i.e. next to the separation point.) and pressure fluctua-
tions on the downstream face of the weir.
Model study is indispensable while ascertaining the suitability of a rubber
weir installation in a situation where there is potential for fluid-structure interac-
tion and problems of vibration. This necessitates dynamic similarity of elongation
of the rubber fabric, which implies equality of Structural Merit law in addition
to Froudian scaling law between the model and the prototype. The Structural
Merit number is the ratio of inertial forces to elastic forces with reference to a
characteristic length dimension and is expressed as SL/E, where L represents
thickness of the fabric, is the density, and E the elasticity of the rubberized
fabric.
Jongeling et al. (1999) have described model study to determine the wave
induced response of an inflatable barrier of 8.5 m height, placed across a river,
and inflated when a severe storm occurs. Special attention was paid to a correct
scaling of both the stiffness of the air in the dam and the over-pressure related
to the atmospheric pressure. Both the over-pressure in the dam and the tension
stiffness of the sheet appeared to be important parameters in the response of the
dam.
Chanson (1998) conducted laboratory experiments to investigate nappe tra-
jectory and wall pressure distribution on the downstream face of a circular shaped
rubber dam, down the point of separation of the overflowing nappe with the weir
surface. Following the notations in Figure 4a, the dimensionless wall pressure
distribution at any position , is given by
P P
gR
d
R
F
d
R
atm s
w

+
j
(
\
,
,

,
]
]
]


2
1
2
cos (1)
where
d Depth of flow
P
s
Absolute pressure at the wall
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
C
h
a
p
t
e
r
1
5
3
1
8
Figure 4 Rubber dam overflow: nappe trajectory (shown in Chanson 1998).
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Inflatable Rubber Weirs 319
P
atm
Atmospheric pressure

w
Density of water
F Froude number
V
gR
It has been shown that Equation 1 predicts an increasing suction pressure
(P
atm
-P
s
) down the surface as the flow is accelerated. This may cause the nappe
to adhere to the wall surface and lead to flow instability and pressure fluctuation
on the downstream face of the dam and vibrations of the flexible membrane.
Nappe adherence instability can be eliminated by deflecting the nappe off the
rubber wall. Chanson also suggests provision of a deflector at suitable location
on the surface. Figure 4b shows a typical deflector with an angle and height
h, defined by the position
def
. The deflected nappe angle
0
at take-off is smaller
than the deflector angle , and is approximately given by


0
0

,
]
]
]
tanh
h
d
(2)
Where d
o
and v
o
are the values at the take-off point. The trajectory equations of
a ventilated nappe are
x
R
V
gR
gt
R
x
R
def
+
0
0
2
0
cos( ) (3)
y
R
gt
R
V
gR
gt
R
y
R
def
+
1
2
2
0
0
2
0
sin( ) (4)
Where x is the horizontal direction, y is the vertical direction, t is the time, x
o
and y
0
are the coordinates of the deflector edge, and
def
is the angular position
of the deflector. It was also concluded that the optimum location of the deflector
was 30
def
60 to avoid reattachment of the flow.
A tentative deflector configuration namely
def
, h, and is the starting
point of the calculations. Knowing the velocity and depth of flow at the crest,
d
0
and V
0
are obtained from the energy equation, neglecting losses. The angle

0
is calculated from Equation 2. Inserting y R (1 cos
def
) in Equation 4,
the time t
0
is determined. Thereafter, x and y are determined for various time
steps, t t
o
. This procedure is repeated until a suitable trajectory is obtained.
It is found that if the depth of overflow is less than 20% of the height of
the weir, vibrations might not occur.
Methods to reduce vibrations are: increasing the rigidity of the structure
by increasing stretching strength of the membrane per unit length and improving
hydraulic conditions in the over-fall region.
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Chapter 15 320
Increasing the inner pressure of the dam, filling it with water instead of
air, and decreasing the distance between the two anchoring lines at the base can
increase rigidity of the structure.
15.3.2 Structural Design
The structural design comprises:
Assessment of the impact force on the deflated rubber fabric due to
rolling of the boulders and hence thickness of the cushion.
Estimation of the peripheral tension in the fully inflated position and
to arrive at the required tensile strength of the fabric and its thickness.
Details of fasteners, anchor bolts, etc.
Details of the lower structure, side walls, etc.
It is required to ascertain the size of the boulder that can be lifted by the flow
and the energy imparted by that boulder on the membrane while impinging.
Assuming that a typical boulder is of spherical shape, with a diameter a, the drag
force exerted by the flow on river bed F is
(5)
F C a
v
D

j
(
\
,

4 2
2
2
where
a Diameter of boulder assuming it as a sphere
C
D
Drag coefficient for sphere (appx C
D
1)
Spcific gravity of river water
v Flow velocity
The weight of the boulder in water is
(6)
W a
s
( )
1
6
3
Where
s
Specific gravity of boulder 2.65.
The threshold of lifting of the boulder is represented by FW. Thus,
a C
V
D
s

3
4
2

( )
(7)
The energy of such a boulder is given by
(8) E
W
g
v

2
2
The above information is used to determine the suitable type of cushion and its
thickness from the range of specifications of material commercially available.
The tension in the rubberized fabric is maximized in the peripheral direction,
immediately before the process of deflation. A factor of safety of 810 is usually
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Inflatable Rubber Weirs 321
adopted while deciding on the required breaking strength of the rubber material.
For the 6 m high Kurotani weir with a maximum depth of overflow of 1.5 m, a
3-ply reinforced rubberized fabric 16 mm thick, having a breaking strength of
1600 kg/cm was used.
15.4 PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH RUBBER WEIR
INSTALLATION
Although rubberized fabrics can be made stiff and strong to withstand natural
calamities, they could be damaged due to extraneous factors. Hakin et al. (2002)
have reported a case of two uncontrolled deflations of 3.5 m high 40 m long
rubber weirs, used as control gates on the crest of Lyell dam, Australia. One of
the failures was due to software malfunction in the gate operating system while
in other it was due to manufacturing defects. Tam and Zhang (1999) have listed
several problems associated with rubber weirs such as:
Damage due to vandalism
Damage due to flood-borne debris
Damage due to deflation: during deflation, sharp objects lying on the
base immediately downstream of the dam can puncture the body of the
rubber weir
Damage due to vibration
Damage due to abrasion
Fire damage
Air loss: rubber itself is gas permeable. Therefore, no matter how well
the dam installation has been done, some air loss is bound to occur. It
would be necessary to reinflate it periodically to maintain inner pres-
sure.
Vulnerability to weathering
Concentration of condensation water: frequent inflation and deflation
cause changes of inner air pressure, resulting in accumulation of con-
densation water inside the dam body which can prolong deflation time.
Regular opening of the discharge outlet is necessary to release the con-
densation water.
The above factors need to be taken into consideration while designing, construct-
ing, and operating the structures.
Notations
a Diameter of boulder
C
D
Drag coefficient of boulder, assumed spherical shape
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.
Chapter 15 322
d Depth of flow
E Energy of the boulder imparted on the rubberized fabric
F Drag force exerted by the flow on the river bed
h Height of deflector
P
atm
Atmospheric pressure
P
s
Absolute pressure at the wall
R Radius of the weir cross section
t Time
V
0
Velocity of the nappe at the edge of the deflector
v Velocity of flow in the river
W Weight of the boulder
x Coordinate of trajectory in horizontal direction
x
0
x- coordinate of the deflector edge
y Coordinate of trajectory in vertical direction
y
0
y- Coordinate of the deflector edge
Angular position of a point on weir surface

def
Angular position of the deflector
Angle of deflector

0
Deflected nappe angle at take-off from the deflector
Specific gravity of river water

s
Specific gravity of boulder
REFERENCES
1. Chanson, H. Hydraulics of rubber dam overflow: A simple design approach, 13th
Australian Fluid Mechanics Conference; Monash University, Melbourne, Australia,
1998.
2. Hakin, W. D.; Siers, P.; Solomon, P. Defusing the situation, International Water power
and Dam Construction, October, 2002.
3. Ishimura, Y. Design and installation of inflatable rubber weir, Water and Energy
2001; International R & D conference, CBIP, New Delhi: India, 1995.
4. Jongeling, T. H. G.; Rovekamp, N. H. Wave-induced response of inflatable barrier,
27th IAHR Biennial Congress, Graz, Austria, August 1999.
5. Ogihara, K.; Maramatsu, T. Rubber dam : Causes of oscillations of rubber dams and
countermeasures, Proc 21st IAHR Congress, Melbourne, Australia, 1985.
6. Tam, P. W. M.; Zhang, X. Management of rubber dams in Hong Kong: Canadian
Journal of Civil Engineering, 1999.
Copyright 2005 by Marcel Dekker.