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Install Grade Control Structures

Grade control structures drop water safely from one
level to another, preventing it from gouging out

They can also help to control flooding and trap the

sediment moving with runoff water. Grade control
structures are typically built across an existing gully, a
grassed waterway, or the outlet of a waterway. They
come in three basic types: weirs, chutes, and pipes.

A weir allows water to run over the edge like a

miniature waterfall, dropping down onto a concrete
apron. The apron safely absorbs the impact of the
falling water and then the water streams to an outlet.
Although weirs come in many forms, one of the most
popular and cheapest of weirs is made of corrugated
metal, with a concrete apron.

When the drop in grade is more dramatic, you can use

a chute to prevent severe erosion. As the name
implies, water moves down a chute made of concrete
or lined with rocks or concrete blocks. The concrete
block-lined chute is one of the most popular and
economical of chutes.

Like chutes, pipes are effective in handling water when

the drop in grade is dramatic. They are designed to
carry water through or under an earth embankment to
a lower elevation. The inlet for pipes comes in two
basic forms: a drop inlet and a hood inlet. With a drop
inlet, water does just that—it drops down into the inlet
and then flows through the pipe.

With a hood inlet, water flows directly into the pipe;

the end of the inlet either has a hood on the top or is
cut at an angle so the top of the pipe acts as a hood.
The hood allows the pipe to flow full of water and
prevents the air above the water's surface from
entering the pipe.
Grade Control Structure
Earthen, wooden, metal, concrete or other structure built across a drainageway to prevent gully
How it works
A dam, embankment or other structure built across a grassed waterway or existing gully controls and
reduces water flow. The structure drops water from one stabilized grade to another and prevents
overfall gullies from advancing up a slope.
How it helps
Grade control structures are often used at the outlet of a
grassed waterway to stabilize the waterway outlet,
preventing gully erosion.
Grassed, non-eroding waterways made possible with a
grade control structure give better water quality, can be
crossed with equipment, and
look better than non-stabilized gullies.
If it is planned to store water, a grade control structure may provide a water source and habitat for
Planning ahead
Are adequate conservation practices installed above the structure to prevent sedimentation?
Is the planned location in the proper place to achieve the level of control you want?
Tech notes
Ask NRCS for design and construction specifications.
Obtain any necessary easements or permits.
Remove all trees and shrubs within 30 feet of the structure. *
Clear debris approximately 50 feet downstream from the spillway outlet. *
Keep burrowing animals off of earthen structures.
Repair any cracks in concrete.
Keep outlets free of debris.

Grade Control Structure

Earthen, wooden, concrete or other structure built within a natural or man made
channel to prevent gully development and bed erosion while improving water
quality and habitat conditions.

How it works
A grade control structure is used to stabilize a stream, grassed waterway, or gully
to reduce channel bed erosion. This practice is used at sites where the flow velocity
or the concentration of water in a channel or gully requires a structure to stabilize
the grade or to prevent head cuts from migrating upstream.

How it helps
 Stabilizes the grade and controls erosion in natural or artificial channels
 Prevents gully head cut formation and channel bed erosion by lowering water in a controlled manner
 Enhances environmental quality and reduces pollution hazards
 Manages channel flow line for non-erosion benefits, including fish passage, water table control, and
reduced turbidity
Planning ahead
 Are ESA considerations or special permits required?
 Are adequate conservation practices installed above the structure to prevent sedimentation?
 Is the planned location in the proper place to achieve the level of control you want?
Technical notes
 Ask your conservation planner for design and construction specifications.
 The landowner must obtain any necessary easements or permits.
 Avoid operating farm equipment too close to the structure.
 Maintain good vegetative cover on all slopes and water courses.
 Control livestock access to the structure.
 Remove debris accumulation at the structure and immediately upstream or downstream.
 Keep burrowing animals off earthen structures.
 Keep outlets free of debris.

Heavy Metal
One of the more unique monitoring solutions created by our FABLAB is the rigid weir featured in
our post Rigid by Design, a project constructed to track fish passing both upstream and downstream
of the project location. While fabricating the weir was an extensive process in itself, the process of
installing the two-segment weir in two channels separated by a large in-river island was an all-hands
effort that took several days to complete, as shown in our newest highlight video. What isn’t apparent
in the video is that the installation challenges were exacerbated by the smoky conditions created by
the Tenaya Fire in nearby Yosemite National Park.
To reach the monitoring site located deep in a canyon, our installation team was assisted by a crane
operator to transport the large and heavy weir components. The composition and uneven depth of the
riverbed posed additional challenges for installation. The substrate of large cobbles made for uneven
footing and gave us a difficult time in lining up the weir panels. Solving these challenges required
some meticulous work, including applying struts across all the panels to keep them connected and in
place. The problem of gaps at the bottom of the panels created by the uneven riverbed (which could
allow fish to slip through undetected) was solved by sliding small pipes down through the weir
pickets in order to extend their length, as seen on day three of the highlight.
The design and implementation of this weir is one of our more creative and challenging projects.
Throughout the course of the monitoring season, the structure has survived being bombarded by large
mats of debris being swept downriver at high flows. The rigid, tripod-like design of the panels has
allowed it to survive substantial debris loads, while continuing to collect reliable data. Make sure to
check out our highlight video to see how it all came together.

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