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FHWA Home / OIPD / Accelerating Innovation / Every Day Counts / EDC-5: CHANGE: Collaborative Hydraulics 2.0

banner image for  CHANGE: Collaborative Hydraulics 2.0, photo source: John Gussman

Collaborative Hydraulics: Advancing to the Next Generation of Engineering (CHANGE)

Next-generation hydraulic tools improve the understanding of complex interactions between river or coastal environments and transportation assets, enabling better design, enhanced communication, and more efficient project delivery.

In recent years, resource agencies have increased their focus on the assessment of environmental impacts associated with river crossings. As a result, hydraulic engineers are responsible for demonstrating that impacts have been avoided or minimized. Traditional hydraulic tools do not support these levels of inquiry and analysis. Current modeling techniques commonly used for hydraulic design apply several simplifying assumptions that can lead to overly conservative or inaccurate results.

Developments in two-dimensional (2D) hydraulic modeling and three-dimensional (3D) computer visualization technology have made powerful tools available that greatly enhance the understanding of complex river and coastal hydraulics. In addition, the enhanced visualizations assist engineers in communicating hydraulic conditions to others within the project delivery process (planning, environmental, design, and construction), resource agencies, the public, and other stakeholders.

Next-Generation Hydraulic Modeling Tools

Advanced hydraulic modeling technologies offer planners, scientists, and engineers the tools to depict specific physical, environmental, and habitat characteristics through 3D visualization of flow, velocity, and depth along an entire channel reach. These tools will increase the knowledge of agencies and their ability to make more cost-effective hydraulic decisions within their project delivery. Additional applications include complex bridge crossings, analysis of bridge options, complex floodplain geometry, flood risk assessment, flood mapping, channel restoration, fish habitat analysis, sediment transport and scour analysis, channel stability and countermeasure analysis, and others.

While 2D modeling technologies have advanced significantly in recent years, notable advancements have also been made in bridge scour research and evaluation tools, enabling engineers to make more informed and accurate assessments of not only the scour depth potential, but also the location and extent of scour.


  • Improved Quality and Resiliency. Better representations provide planning and design teams with better data, leading to improved project quality.
  • Enhanced Collaboration. 3D graphical visualizations derived from 2D modeling offer better tools for communicating the often complex interaction between waterways, the transportation infrastructure, and the surrounding environment.
  • Streamlined Delivery. Improved collaboration through 2D and 3D visualizations offers real potential for reducing environmental, regulatory, engineering, and other impediments to project delivery.

State of the Practice

Technology developments in recent years have expanded the market of hydraulic modeling programs and tools. These tools significantly advance the state of practice and offer real potential to streamline project development, including environmental, regulatory, and engineering activities.

Most States have an awareness of these new hydraulic modeling tools and their benefits. Additionally, FHWA has updated two National Highway Institute courses to support advanced modeling technologies: Two-Dimensional Modeling of Rivers at Highway Encroachments and Hydraulic Design of Safe Bridges.

Page last modified on June 13, 2018
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