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A weir on the Humber River near Raymore Park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A weir on the Yass River directly upstream from a shared pedestrian/cycle river crossing (Person for scale)

A weir /ˈwɪər/ is a barrier across a river designed to alter its flow characteristics. In most cases, weirs take the form of obstructions smaller than most conventional dams, pooling water behind them while also allowing it to flow steadily over their tops. Weirs are commonly used to alter the flow of rivers to prevent flooding, measure discharge, and help render rivers navigable. Weirs are also used in the study of returning salmonids.[1]


File:Thorp Gristmill Weir.jpg
A weir at the Thorp grist mill in Thorp, Washington, USA

Weirs allow hydrologists and engineers a simple method of measuring the volumetric flow rate in small to medium-sized streams or in industrial discharge locations. Since the geometry of the top of the weir is known and all water flows over the weir, the depth of water behind the weir can be converted to a rate of flow. The calculation relies on the fact that fluid will pass through the critical depth of the flow regime in the vicinity of the crest of the weir. If water is not carried away from the weir, it can make flow measurement complicated or even impossible.

The discharge can be summarised as:

Q = C L H^n


  • Q is flow rate of fluid
  • C is a constant for structure
  • L is the width of the crest
  • H is the height of head of water over the crest
  • n varies with structure (e.g. 3/2 for horizontal weir, 5/2 for v-notch weir)

When used for flow measurement it is important that the weir crest be kept free of rust or nicks. Roughness of any form will cause the weir to discharge more water than indicated by the standard discharge equations or tables. Air must also freely circulate under the nappe as discharge errors of as much as 25% may occur if the nappe is not adequately ventilated.[2]

A weir may be used to maintain the vertical profile of a stream or channel, and is then commonly referred to as a grade stabilizer such as the weir in Duffield, Derbyshire, England, UK.

The crest of an overflow spillway on a large dam is often called a weir.

Weirs, referred to as low head barrier dams in this context, are used in the control of invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. They serve as a barrier to prevent recolonization by lamprey above the weir, reducing the area required to be treated with lampricide, and providing a convenient point to measure water flow (to calculate amount of chemical to be applied).

Mill ponds provide a watermill with the power it requires, using the difference in water level above and below the weir to provide the necessary energy.


19th century weir of porphyry stone on a creek in the Alps
  • Because a weir will typically increase the oxygen content of the water as it passes over the crest, a weir can have a detrimental effect on the local ecology of a river system. A weir will artificially reduce the upstream water velocity, which can lead to an increase in siltation (deposition of fine particles of silt and clay on the floor of a river).
  • Weirs can also have an effect on local fauna. While a weir is easy for some fish to jump over, other species or certain life stages of the same species may be blocked by weirs due to relatively slow swim speeds or behavioral characteristics. Fish ladders provide a way for fish to get between the water levels.
  • Even though the water around weirs can often appear relatively calm, they can be extremely dangerous places to boat, swim, or wade, as the circulation patterns on the downstream side—typically called a hydraulic jump— can submerge a person indefinitely. This phenomenon is so well known to canoeists, kayakers, and others who spend time on rivers that they even have a rueful name for weirs: "drowning machines".[3][4]
  • The weir can become a point where garbage and other debris accumulate. However, a walkway over the weir is likely to be useful for the removal of floating debris trapped by the weir, or for working staunches and sluices on it as the rate of flow changes. This is also sometimes used as a convenient pedestrian crossing point for the river.


The bridge and weir mechanism at Sturminster Newton on the River Stour, Dorset, England, UK
Two weirs on the River Wear in Durham, County Durham, England, UK. The lower weir also has fish ladders to allow fish like salmon to navigate the weir.
A manually operated needle dam-type weir near Revin on the River Meuse, France
A weir in Warkworth, New Zealand
V-notches at Dobbs Weir in Hertfordshire, England, UK

There are several different types of weirs. A weir may be a simple metal plate with a V-notch cut into it, or it may be a concrete and steel structure across the bed of a river. A weir that causes a large change of water level behind it, as compared to the error inherent in the depth measurement method, will give an accurate indication of the flow rate. Some weirs are used as bridges for people to walk along.

Labyrinth weir

A labyrinth weir uses a trapezoidal-shaped weir wall geometry (plan view) to increase the weir length. They are versatile structures and can be modified to fit many applications.[5]

Broad-crested weir

A broad-crested weir is a flat-crested structure, with a long crest compared to the flow thickness.[6] When the crest is "broad", the streamlines become parallel to the crest invert and the pressure distribution above the crest is hydrostatic. The hydraulic characteristics of broad-crested weirs were studied during the 19th and 20th centuries. Practical experience showed that the weir overflow is affected by the upstream flow conditions and the weir.

Sharp crested weir (fayoum weir)

A sharp-crested weir allows the water to fall cleanly away from the weir. Sharp crested weirs are typically 14 inch (6.4 mm) or thinner metal plates. Sharp crested weirs come in many different shapes and styles, such as rectangular (with and without end contractions), V-notch and Cipoletti weirs. Under controlled conditions, sharp crested weirs can exhibit accuracies as good as +/-2%, although under field conditions accuracies greater than +/-5% should not be expected.[7]

The crest of a sharp crested weir should be no thicker than 18 inch (3.2 mm) to ensure that the nappe springs clear of the weir's crest. Where the weir plate is thicker than 18 inch (3.2 mm), the downstream face of the weir must be beveled.[8]

Piano keys weir (PKW)

To reduce the risks related to large flooding EDF (French electricity company) has equipped some of its weirs with crests in shape of piano keys. This design makes possible the evacuation of a large flowrate of excess of water in case of extreme flooding.

Compound weir

The sharp crested weirs can be consolidated into three geometrical groups : a) the rectangular weir, b) the V or triangular notch, and c) special notches, such as trapezoidal, circular or parabolic weirs. For accurate flow measurement over a wider range of flow rates, a compound weir combines two or more types - typically a V-notch weir with a rectangular weir.[9]

These weirs are a combination of a V-notch weir and a rectangular weir and are available for insertion in pipes from 6 to 15 inches (150 to 380 mm) - with secondary adapters available for larger pipe sizes. The weirs are intended to measure no more than 35% of the pipe's open channel flow capacity.

V-notch weir

The V-notch weir is a triangular channel section, used to measure small discharge values. The upper edge of the section is always above the water level, so the channel is always triangular simplifying calculation of the cross-sectional area. V-notch weirs are preferred for low discharges as the head above the weir crest is more sensitive to changes in flow compared to rectangular weirs, for example, the Rehbock weir. Under laboratory conditions, V-notch weirs typically achieve accuracies of 2% to 5%, while field condition accuracies from 5% to 15% may be expected.[10]

V-notch weirs are sized between 22-1/2° and 120°, with 22-1/2°, 30°, 45°, 60°, 90°, and 120° the common size increments - although free-flow discharge equations can be developed from one universal equation for V-notch weirs from 25° to 120° in size.[11]

Sharp crested weir background

The v notch weir is one type of sharp crested weir for which background information is given in Open Channel Flow Measurement 1. Additional general sharp crested weir information is given in this section and then v notch weir equations are discussed in the next two sections. The diagram at the left[clarification needed] shows some parameters and terminology used with a sharp crested weir for open channel flow rate measurement.

The weir crest is the top of the weir. For a v notch weir it is the point of the notch, which is the lowest point of the weir opening. The term nappe is used for the sheet of water flowing over the weir. The equations to meter flow in this article require free flow, which takes place when there is air under the nappe. The drawdown is the decrease in water level going over the weir due to the acceleration of the water. The head over the weir is shown as H in the diagram; the height of the weir crest is shown as P; and the open channel flow rate or discharge is shown as Q.

Fully contracted, 90 degree, V notch weir equation

The equation recommended by the Bureau of Reclamation in their Water Measurement Manual, for use with a fully contracted, 90°, v notch, sharp crested weir with free flow conditions and 0.2 ft < H < 1.25 ft, is:

Q = 2.49H^{2.48}
  • Q is discharge in cfs, and
  • H is head over the weir in ft.

The conditions for the v notch weir to be fully contracted are P > 2H_{max}, S > 2H_{max}.

The diagram at the left[clarification needed] shows the parameters H, P, θ and S for a v notch weir as used for open channel flow rate measurement.

V notch weir equation for notch angles other than 90 degrees

For notch angles other than 90°, the Kindsvater-Carter equation, as given below, from the Bureau of Reclamation, Water Measurement Manual, should be used. That equation is:

Q = 4.28 C_{e} \tan{\left(\frac{\theta}{2}\right)}\frac{(H + k)5}{2}
  • Q and H are as previously defined
  • θ is the angle of the v notch
  • C_{e} is the effective discharge coefficient
  • k is a head correction factor

The diagram at the left[clarification needed] is a graph of C_{e} as a function of notch angle, θ, and the diagram at the right gives k as a function of θ.

A v notch weir is simply a 'v notch' in a plate that is placed so that it obstructs an open channel flow, causing the water to flow over the v notch. It is used to meter flow of water in the channel, by measuring the head of water over the v notch crest. The v notch weir is especially good for measuring a low flow rate, because the flow area decreases rapidly as the head over the v notch gets small.[12]

Minimum Energy Loss weir

The concept of the Minimum Energy Loss (MEL) structure was developed by Gordon McKay in 1971.[13] The first MEL structure was the Redcliffe storm waterway system, also called Humpybong Creek drainage outfall, completed in 1960 in the Redcliffe Peninsula in Queensland, Australia. It consisted of a MEL weir acting as a streamlined drop inlet followed by a 137 m long culvert discharging into the Pacific Ocean. The weir was designed to prevent beach sand being washed in and choking the culvert, as well as to prevent salt intrusion in Humpybong Creek without afflux (rise in water level on the upstream side of an obstruction). The structure is still in use and passed floods greater than the design flow in several instances without flooding (McKay 1970, Chanson 2007).

The concept of the Minimum Energy Loss (MEL) weir was developed to pass large floods with minimum energy loss and afflux, and nearly-constant total head along the waterway. The flow in the approach channel is contracted through a streamlined chute and the channel width is minimum at the chute toe, just before impinging into the downstream natural channel. The inlet and chute are streamlined to avoid significant form losses and the flow may be critical from the inlet lip to the chute toe at design flow. MEL weirs were designed specifically for situations where the river catchment is characterized by torrential rainfalls and by very small bed slope. The first major MEL weir was the Clermont weir (Qld, Australia 1963), if the small control weir at the entrance of Redcliffe culvert is not counted. The largest, Chinchilla weir (Qld, Australia 1973), is listed as a "large dam" by the International Commission on Large Dams.

See also


  1. "ELWHA DAM REMOVALS: Researchers use giant fish weir to study salmon - Port Angeles Port Townsend Sequim Forks Jefferson County Clallam County Olympic Peninsula Daily news". 2011-09-03. Retrieved 2015-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Factors affecting weir flow measurement accuracy
  3. Michael Robinson, Ph.D. P.E., Robert Houghtalen, Ph.D., P.E. "Dangerous dams". Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association. Rhode Island. Archived from the original on 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2011-06-26.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lowhead Dams, Ohio DNR
  5. Crookston, Brian Mark, "Labyrinth Weirs" (2010). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Paper 802.
  6. Chanson 1999, 2004; Henderson 196;, Sturm 2001
  7. "Flow Characteristics for Sharp-Crested / Thin-Plate Weirs". Openchannelflow. Retrieved 2015-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Weir Plate Materials". Openchannelflow. 2013-05-20. Retrieved 2015-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Compound Weirs for Wide Ranging Flows". Openchannelflow. 2013-04-19. Retrieved 2015-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. V-notch weir accuracy
  11. [1]
  12. by Atif Siddiqui
  13. Chanson, H. (2009). Embankment Overtopping Protections System and Earth Dam Spillways. in "Dams: Impact, Stability and Design", Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge NY, USA, Ed. W.P. Hayes and M.C. Barnes, Chapter 4, pp. 101-132. ISBN 978-1-60692-618-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Clemmens, Albert (2010). Water Measurement with Flumes and Weirs. ISBN 978-1887201544.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Akers, Peter (1978). Weirs and Flumes for Flow Measurement. ISBN 978-0471996378.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links