The Arroyo Alamar Sustainable Architecture Design Team


The Instituto Municipal de Planeación (IMPlan), Tijuana, Baja California, has among its current projects the rehabilitation of Arroyo Alamar, a tributary of the Tijuana river. The main objective of the project is to rehabilitate the Arroyo Alamar and its flood plain to encourage planned land use and preserve primary hydroecological functions. The project will satisfy a host of urban-planning needs, including the preservation of riparian areas, flood management, planned land use, recreation, landscaping, a green corridor, replenishment of groundwater, improvement of water quality, and compliance with federal stream zoning regulations.

The project encompasses the 10-km reach of Arroyo Alamar, located between the bridge on the toll road to Tecate to the east, and the channelized reach near the confluence with the Tijuana river to the west (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1   Arroyo Alamar:  Project location.

To perform the hydrological and hydroecological design of the rehabilitated channel includes the determination of flood discharges for selected design frequencies, and the calculation of water-surface profiles. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers HEC-RAS (Hydraulic Engineering Center - River Analysis System) model was used to calculate the water-surface profiles.


A hydrological study to determine design flood discharges for 2 to 1000-yr frequencies has been performed by Ponce (2000). In addition, the Gumbel method was used to calculate the 5000-yr and 10000-yr flood discharges (Alamar Research Group, 2003). The adopted design discharges are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Adopted design discharges.
Return period
Design discharge
Q (m3/s)
10 680
50 1140
100 1310
500 1600
1000 1720
5000 2140
10000 2290



The HEC-RAS model calculates the water-surface profile of a channel system, when presented with appropriate upstream and downstream boundary conditions.

3.1 Length and elevation data

The Alamar Project has established a tentative project alignment with a total channel length of 9880 m. The upstream point, with invert elevation 80 m, is at the bridge on the toll road to Tecate. The downstream point, with invert elevation 40 m, is at the confluence with the channelized reach near the confluence with the Tijuana river. This provides an average channel slope of 0.004048.

3.2 River-system schematic

The river-system schematic is developed by drawing and connecting the various reaches of the system within the geometric data editor. The project reach, of length 9880 m, was subdivided into reaches at an equidistance of 988 m, for a total of 10 reaches and 11 cross sections. River stations are numbered from 0 to 10.

3.3 Cross-section geometry

A prismatic channel of a chosen cross-sectional geometry was adopted for design. The channel consists of a main channel and right overbank channel (flood plain). The bottom width of the main channel is 40 m, and the main channel depth is 3.8 m. The side slopes of the main channel are 2 horizontal to 1 vertical.

The overbank channel is 40 m wide each, with channel depth 2.8 m. and side slopes 2 H:1 V. The overbank channels drain into the main channel with a 1% transversal slope. Figure 3 shows the channel design.

Fig. 3   Typical cross section in Arroyo Alamar.

In HEC-RAS, cross-sectional data is entered from left to right, looking in the downstream direction. The left channel bottom x-coordinate was specified as 100 m, and the corresponding cross-sectional coordinates were calculated using a spreadsheet. The x-coordinate left overbank limit is 92.4 m, and the x-coordinate right overbank limit is 147.6 m.

Figure 4 shows typical cross sections generated by HEC-RAS for the discharge of 680 m3/sec, at cross section 0 (downstream end) and cross section 10 (upstream end). Figure 5 shows typical cross sections generated by HEC-RAS for the discharge of 1720 m3/sec, at cross section 0 (downstream end) and cross section 10 (upstream end).

Fig. 4   Typical cross sections generated by HEC-RAS for the flood discharge of 680 m3/sec.

Fig. 5   Typical cross sections generated by HEC-RAS for the flood discharge of 1720 m3/sec.

3.4 Energy loss coefficients

Several types of loss coefficients are utilized by HEC-RAS to evaluate energy losses. These are the Manning's n for friction (boundary) loss, contraction and expansion coefficients to evaluate transition loss, and bridge and culvert loss coefficients. At the present level of approximation, all secondary energy-loss coefficients have been neglected.

Appropriate values of Manning's n are significant to the accuracy of the calculated water surface profiles. The Manning's n value depends on a number of factors, including surface roughness, amount and type of vegetation, channel irregularities, channel alignment, scour and deposition, presence of obstructions, size and shape of channel, stage and discharge, seasonal changes, temperature, and bed material load.

Manning's n values for inbank channel flow was estimated at 0.035, and for overbank flow at 0.075. These values are consistent with established practice. The values of Manning's n recommended by HEC-RAS are shown in Table 2.

3.5 Boundary conditions

The boundary condition is necessary to establish the starting water-surface elevation at either end of the channel system. Since the flow is subcritical, the boundary condition is specified at the downstream end of the channel system. The average channel slope So= 0.004048 has been specified as downstream boundary condition in the present study.

3.6 Flood discharge

Flood discharge information is required at each cross section in order to compute the water-surface profile. The flow value is entered at the upstream end of the reach, and it assumes that the flow remains constant until another flow value is encountered with the same reach. The flood discharges corresponding to 10-, 50-, 100-, 500-, 1000-, 5000- and 10000-yr return periods were used to calculate water-surface profiles with HEC-RAS.


The HEC-RAS model results are shown in Table 2. Flow depths vary from 3.7 m to 6.9 m; inbank flow velocities vary from 3.87 to 5.77 m/s; overbank flow velocities vary from 0.76 to 1.64 m/s. In inbank Froude numbers vary from 0.69 to 0.76. The total Froude numbers vary from 0.71 to 0.79. For the 10-yr design flood discharge, the freeboard is 0.1 m (main channel only). For the 1000-yr design flood discharge, the freeboard is 1.02 m. For the 10000-yr design flood discharge (freeboard hydrograph), the freeboard is 0.1 m.

Table 2. HEC-RAS results showing flow depths, mean velocities, Froude numbers, and freeboard for corresponding return periods.
Return period

Discharge (m3/s)

Flow depth (m) Inbank flow mean velocity (m/s) Overbank flow mean velocity (m/s) Froude number (inbank) Froude number (total) Freeboard (m)
10 680 3.70 3.87 - 0.69 0.69 0.10
50 1140 4.87 4.62 0.76 0.72 0.79 2.13
100 1310 5.22 4.84 0.95 0.73 0.76 1.78
500 1600 5.77 5.16 1.20 0.74 0.73 1.23
1000 1720 5.98 5.28 1.29 0.74 0.73 1.02
5000 2140 6.67 5.65 1.55 0.76 0.71 0.33
10000 2290 6.90 5.77 1.64 0.76 0.71 0.10


A hydrological design has been accomplished for the Arroyo Alamar rehabilitation project, Tijuana, Baja California. The design used the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' HEC-RAS model to determine flow depths, mean velocities, inbank and total Froude numbers, and freeboards for a typical cross-section featuring a compound prismatic channel with right overbank side channel (flood plain) (Fig. 3). The flow depths and mean velocities obtained from the model, shown in Table 2, are consistent with established practice.

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