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River Flow 2014 Schleiss et al. (Eds)

2014 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-1-138-02674-2
Instream river training: Fundamentals and practical example
N. Werdenberg
Basler & Hofmann West, Zollikofen, Switzerland
M. Mende
IUB Engineering, Bern, Switzerland
C. Sindelar
IWHW, BOKU, Vienna, Austria
ABSTRACT: Most hydraulic engineering methods in rivers focus on bank enhancement for protecting
the banks from erosion. By contrast, submerged river training structures function by effectively guiding
eroding currents away from the banks and hence lowering shear stress in the bank area. Such installations
known as micro groins and meandering ramps are built of natural boulders. They operate from within
the river bed, not from the banks. Accordingly, these designs are covered under the term Instream River
Training (IRT). A further key feature is the generation of helicoidal secondary flows which have an effect
on sediment transport as well as on velocity and shear stress distributions. As opposed to conventional
groins, IRT structures protrude only marginally from the river bed (i.e. 0.15 m), yet they operate efficiently
during floods. In this paper we present fundamentals as well as monitoring results of recently built IRT
structures. The monitoring results are promising. In 2011 micro groins and meandering ramps were installed
in the Taverna river, canton Freiburg, Switzerland. These submerged groins proved to successfully protect
the outer banks from erosion during a 30-year flood and to diversify bed morphology. The monitoring
program for the Taverna river will be continued until 2017 to further investigate IRT structures.
fundamental cause for morphological changes,
which lies in the flow itself.
The second approach therefore focuses on the
reduction of the hydraulic force including the sys-
tematic modification of the flow. Consequently,
this approach is treating causes rather than effects.
Most common, it is applied by using river train-
ing techniques which modify the flow by locally
increasing the roughness and therefore reducing
the velocity, such as conventional groins or bioen-
gineering methods. Nevertheless, their use gener-
ally evokes an increase in water level and therefore
requires a sufficient freeboard, which restricts their
implementation if space is limited. Furthermore,
the application of bioengineering techniques,
although ecologically favorable, is restricted to
rivers with medium hydraulic force and mean flow
depth. Therefore, they often require a combination
with rock fill toe protection or other non- biological
stabilizing measures.
Another, relatively unknown approach to mod-
ify the flow is the generation of secondary flows
that interact with the main flow. This interaction
is similar to the well known example of natural
flow dynamics in a river bend, where the main
flow is diverted to the outer bank and later to the
Over the last decades river training has become
increasingly nature-orientated. A main objective
of todays hydraulic engineering in rivers is the
redevelopment of their natural dynamics, includ-
ing broad scale channel dynamics and floodplain
development. However, sufficient space to achieve
this objective is often not available due to human
land use. Therefore, most of the river training
measures still implement the stabilization of the
river banks and bed. This applies to flood protec-
tion as well as to river restoration projects. Due to
the lack of space, a more or less fixed river channel
is required to resist hydraulic forces and to prevent
morphological changes, i.e. bank erosion.
To stabilize rivers there are basically two
approaches. The most popular solution is to
adapt the river channel in order to increase the
resistance. For this purpose, longitudinal training
techniques like rip rap or side walls are typically
used. This results in high costs and ecologi-
cal disadvantages like poor biological connec-
tivity between aquatic and terrestrial habitat.
Moreover, these measures can be qualified as
treating symptoms rather than approaching the
channel bottom (Rozovskii 1957, Meckel 1978). As
a consequence of this helicoidal secondary flow,
the outer bank of a river bend is usually character-
ized by bank erosion and bend scour whereas the
inner bank is characterized by sedimentation and
low velocities.
If a secondary flow is induced on purpose, the
described process, which often causes problems for
river engineers regarding bank stability, can be used
to generate desirable effects. In fact, by inducing
secondary flows, predictable changes in the veloc-
ity distribution and cross section geometry can be
achieved. This is the basic idea of Instream River
Training (Mende & Sindelar 2010, Mende 2012),
where submerged instream structures are used to
generate secondary currents.
1.1 State of the art submerged
instream structures
The scientific investigation of submerged vanes
is inextricably linked to Jacob Odgaard and his
fellow researchers who explored the use of sub-
merged vanes in the field, in physical model tests
and theoretically. A comprehensive summary of
this research along with design guidelines for sub-
merged vanes is provided in Odgaard (2009). In
the USA and in Canada instream rock structures
are used for grade control, bank protection and
river restoration. Experience-driven design guide-
lines exist for stream barbs (USDA 2005) and rock
vanes (Rosgen 2001). We will refer to this kind of
structures as Rosgen-type structures. These rock
structures project from the bankfull stage stre-
ambank into the channel center. The structure is
sloping such that the tip of the structure is level
with the river bed or protrudes only slightly from
the bed. At low flow conditions only the tip of the
structure is submerged. Thus, recirculation eddies
are often generated up- and down-stream of the
non-submerged near-bank part of the structure
which may enhance bank erosion. On bank-full
discharge a hydraulic jump develops down-stream
of the structure, potentially endangering bank sta-
bility. In recent times, experimental and numerical
investigations in the vicinity of rock structures
contribute to better understand the functioning of
rock structures and its implications on hydrody-
namics and morphodynamics (e.g. Jamieson et al.
2013, Khosronejad et al. 2013, Minor et al. 2007).
Independent of the investigations on submerged
vanes and on Rosgen-type rock structures, instream
structures have been developed in Styria, Austria,
since the 1990es by river engineer Otmar Grober.
We will refer to these structures as Grober-type
structures. Field installations can be found in
Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Some of these
installations have been investigated scientifically
(Mende & Sindelar 2010, Sindelar et al. 2007)
and have proven to ameliorate the habitat for fish
(Pinter et al. 2009) and to invoke sediment sorting
(Sindelar & Mende 2009, Sindelar, 2011). In con-
trast to sub-merged vanes, Grober-type structures
are built of rock boulders that easily blend in with
the natural environment. Compared to Rosgen-
type structures they are generally smaller and com-
pletely submerged already at low flow conditions.
In this paper we discuss two Grober-type
instream structures, namely micro groins and
meandering ramps (Chapter 2). They serve
as examples of nature-orientated and efficient
instream river training structures. In Chapter 3
we give a practical example of such Grober-type
structures in the Taverna river in Switzerland and
present monitoring results.
2.1 Definition
Instream River Training (IRT) is a method of
river engineering where the flow, being the main
reason for bank and bed erosion, is modified by
inducing one or more large-scale helicoidal sec-
ondary flows (i.e. spiral flows). For this purpose,
instream structures which are completely sub-
merged at low flow conditions are used. Depend-
ing on the field of application, the modification of
the flow has one of the following goals:
a. Channel stabilization while omitting or reduc-
ing longitudinal bank enhancement structures
(e.g. rip rap or side walls).
b. Diversification of bed morphology.
c. Sustainable sediment management.
d. Initiation of a dynamic river channel
Most importantly, the IRT structures described
below offer the possibility to meet both ecologi-
cal and stabilization requirements at the same
time and thus to enhance the situation for a large
part of todays degraded rivers, even where space
is scarce. However, it has to be pointed out that
IRT is no substitute for the loss of a natural river
development corridor encompassing vegetation
and enabling extensive dynamic processes (e.g.
bend migration, mobile large woody debris) and the
reduction of pollutants from the surroundings.
2.2 IRT structures
2.2.1 Micro groins
The micro groin (in German Lenkbuhne) is a
special type of groin which is already submerged at
low flow conditions and therefore rather resembles
ground sills than conventional groins. Ground sills
as well as micro groins only protrude slightly from
the river bed. A flow transition with a hydraulic
jump, as it is typical for conventional groins at
sub-mergence, only occurs at low discharge. There-
fore, micro groins do not reduce the water surface
slope (Mende & Sindelar 2010).
In contrast to ground sills, which are mostly
orientated perpendicular to the main flow and
cover the width of the whole river bed, inclined
and declined micro groins only cover a part of the
rivers width and induce a helicoidal secondary flow
at high sub-mergence. As shown by the example
of an inclined micro groin in Figure 1, this spiral
flow directs relatively slow flowing water sections
from near the ground into the groin area, whereas
fast flowing sections from near the water surface
are directed away from it. Thus, the velocity in the
micro groin area as well as the hydraulic force act-
ing on the bank is considerably reduced. Sediment
deposition occurs on the bank near to the micro
groin, providing additional bank protection. Out-
side of the groin area, the velocity increases and
the river bed deepens slightly.
So far, most micro groins have been used for
bank protection, structuring of watercourses and
sediment management (see Chapter 2.1). In con-
trast to conventional groins, micro groins are char-
acterized by their low height. Usually, they only
protrude about 10 to 20 cm from the river bed.
In the Mur river, the largest river in the district of
Figure 1. Schematic isotach-picture (cross sections)
of a straight river without (left) and with micro groins
(adapted from Sindelar & Mende 2009).
Figure 2. IRT structures implemented at Taverna river,
Switzerland. a) Inclined micro groins. b) Funnel shaped
micro groins. c) Snail shaped micro groins. d) Hook
shaped micro groins. e) Meandering ramp.
Styria (Austria) with a bed width of about 50 cm,
micro groins have been constructed with a height
of 50 to 80 cm. Compared to conventional groins,
micro groins can save on material and construction
costs, since they are much smaller. Due to their low
height, micro groins do not increase the water level,
hence they can also be implemented in situations
where space is relatively scarce (i.e. in settlement
areas). Furthermore, they are easy to combine with
existing longitudinal structures, for example for
morphological diversification of the river bed or for
diminishing hydraulic force on old bank enhance-
ment constructions (Werdenberg et al. 2012).
2.2.2 Meandering ramps
In the Alpine region the use of step-pool ramps has
become more and more popular in recent times due
to the fact that they better ensure fish passage in
comparison to block ramps (Sindelar & Knoblauch
2010). Step-pool ramps lend their design from step-
pool systems that develop naturally in steep moun-
tain streams. The steps of the ramp consist of big
boulders which extend across the whole channel
width. Pools with large water depths are located
in between two steps. Design parameters such as
vertical drop between two consecutive steps, step
spacing and pool depth depend on the fish spe-
cies populating the river reach where the ramp is
constructed. The dominating flow regime is the
cascading tumbling flow (Geiger & Sindelar
2012). The meandering ramp is a special kind of
step-pool ramp with its steps alternately sloping to
the left and right bank, respectively. Thus, a mean-
dering thalweg develops on low flow conditions
(see Fig. 2e). The alternating slopes along with the
slight curvature of the steps induce helicoidal sec-
ondary currents at high sub-mergence. Analogous
to inclined micro groins, these spiral flows dimin-
ish the hydraulic force on the river banks within the
ramp. The boulders comprising a step are embed-
ded into the river bed and the banks and protrude
from the bed only a few decimeters. In contrast
to other step-pool ramps the pools of a meander-
ing ramp are not armored in general. This enables
natural processes of scouring, deposition and sedi-
ment sorting. Design guidelines for meandering
ramps can be found in Sindelar (2011).
3.1 Project description
Between 2011 and 2013 about 60 IRT structures
were implemented in an innovative flood protection
and river rehabilitation project at Taverna river, a
small river on the foothills of the Alps, located in
the canton Freiburg, Switzerland. Depending on
the rivers curvature, its slope and the desired effect
(e.g. bank protection, diversification of bed mor-
phology, fish passage) a broad variety of IRT struc-
tures was installed at specific sections of Taverna
river to guide the local flow energy accordingly (see
Fig. 2). These submerged structures consist of boul-
ders built into the river bed. The required boulder
mass of ca. 1500 kg per boulder was determined
by common stability criteria (Shields 1936, Stevens
et al. 1976). The spacing, angles and heights of the
IRT structures was determined by code of practice
(Werdenberg et al. 2012). In general, the visible
parts of these structures protrude only 10 to 20 cm
from the river bed. The visible structure is comple-
mented by boulders for scour protection (ca. 0.7 m
below bed level) and for anchoring in the bank.
Along a newly rehabilitated section of Taverna
river, inclined and funnel shaped micro groins were
installed into the channel to provide bank pro-
tection and river bed diversity. Traditional bank
enhancement structures were completely omitted.
In this section, the performance of micro groins is
currently being monitored (see Chapter 3.2).
Also, further river sections with existing bank
enhancement structures were treated with the
installment of inclined, snail shaped and hook
shaped micro groins in order to diversify the
prevailing homogenous morphology and poor
flow structure of these sections.
Furthermore, a river section featuring a vertical
drop was remodeled by implementing a meander-
ing ramp (slope 5%) to reassure fish passage.
3.2 Monitoring of micro groins at Taverna river
The performance of micro groins and their quali-
fication for bank protection and for diversifica-
tion of morphology is currently being monitored
on behalf of the canton Freiburg and the Swiss
Federal Office for the Environment (Werdenberg
et al. 2013).
This long term monitoring program (2011
to 2017) focuses on the rehabilitated section of
Taverna river, which is located on the outskirts of
the village Flamatt. The section covers a total length
of ca. 350 m and slopes between 1.2 and 2.0%. It
consists of a double curve (length ca. 200 m) and
a straight channel (length ca. 150 m), both newly
built in early 2011, and without any bank stabiliz-
ing vegetation established yet. Instead of tradi-
tional bank enhancement, 15 inclined micro groins
were installed along the curves and 6 funnel shaped
micro groins along the straight channel.
The outer banks of the curved channel are
naturally more prone to erosion than the straight
channel and therefore are of greater interest for
monitoring bank stability. Hence, 6 cross sections
were defined within the curved channel for peri-
odic measurement of bank stability (Fig. 3). To
clarify the importance of micro groin design for
bank stability, a control section (length ca. 20 m)
without micro groins was also included. For assess-
ing morphologic diversification by inclined micro
groins, an area F of 15 15 m was defined for peri-
odic measurement. Furthermore, the development
of both the curved and the straight channel is peri-
odically documented by photographs.
Since completion of the channel construction in
June 2011, several flood events occurred at Taverna
river. In October and in November 2012, two big
floods with peak flows of ca. 30 m
/s were docu-
Figure 3. The curved channel of Taverna river with
localization of inclined micro groins (white lines), control
section (dotted white line), cross sections 1 to 6 and area F.
mented, which correspond to a 30-year flood event
reduced by upstream retention. For comparison:
a discharge of 38 m
/s corresponds to a 100-year
flood reduced by upstream retention and equals
the protection objective for the village Flamatt.
3.2.1 Results bank protection
The comparison of the cross section data from
June 2011 and June 2012 (Fig. 4) shows no differ-
ences regarding bank geometry and bank stability
for cross sections 1 to 5, though within the river
bed, sediment turnover has induced minor differ-
ences in bed level.
By contrast, cross section 6, which is located in
the control section without micro groins (Fig. 3),
shows a lateral shift of the channel of about 3 m
due to erosion of the outer bank.
Observations during flood events showed that
micro groins are efficiently deflecting the flow
energy to the center of the channel, reducing flow
speed on the banks. As shown in Figure 5a, river
banks protected by micro groins remained unal-
tered by big flood events, although the micro groins
were submerged more than 1 m during these floods
(see floating debris on banks).
By contrast, observations in the control section
showed that flow energy was concentrated along
the outer bank, leading to the bank erosion during
the first big flood in 2012 (Fig. 5b).
Consistent with these results, also the straight
channel, where funnel shaped micro groins were
implemented, showed no erosion signs after the
30-year floods (Fig. 6).
3.2.2 Results bed morphology
Morphologic effects of inclined micro groins were
investigated in the area F (Fig. 3). Measurements
from 2013 (Fig. 7a, b) show the formation of a
pronounced scour pool downstream of the micro
groin. Scour depth ranges between 0.5 and 0.7
m. Next to the scour pool, a sediment cone was
deposited along the outer bank. The sediment cone
consists of loose bed material deposited in layers
of different fractions (sediment sorting). The frac-
tions range from gravel to sand (Fig. 7c).
Figure 4. Development of cross sections 1 to 6, showing
data of June 2011 (grey lines) and June 2013 (black lines).
Figure 5. a) Upper curve protected by inclined micro
groins (white lines) after 30-year flood. View against
stream direction. b) Lower curve with erosion in the
unprotected control section after 30-year flood. View
against stream direction.
Figure 6. Straight channel section protected by funnel
shaped micro groin (white lines) after 30-year flood. View
against stream direction.
Overall, the investigated area shows a high
degree of morphologic diversity. Together with
the generally high flow diversity around micro
groins, the area provides valuable living space and
spawning habitat for salmonids and other aquatic
organisms. Additionally, the drawn-out scour pool
is considered to improve longitudinal connectivity
under low flow conditions.
The above results are consistent with the effects
observed around all micro groin types implemented
throughout Taverna river.
A tempting prospect indeed: achieving common
engineering objectives like bank stabilization, sedi-
ment management or morphologic diversification
by altering the rivers flow seems not only feasible,
but also efficient and cost effective.
As shown by the various existing approaches
(see Chapter 1.1) river training with submerged
structures is a relatively young field with ongoing
investigation on possibilities and limits of these
methods. Instream River Training, one of the most
progressive of these approaches, focuses on small
instream structures built of natural materials like
rock boulders or wood, which are completely sub-
merged already at low flow conditions but function
efficiently even during big floods due to the gen-
eration of secondary flows that interact with the
main flow (see Chapter 2).
Until recently, such unconventional methods
have only been rarely implemented by hydraulic
engineers in Europe. But in the last few years, bet-
ter scientific understanding and efficient practical
examples in Austria, Germany and Switzerland
have raised an increased interest in IRT.
The results from the ongoing long-term moni-
toring at Taverna river in Switzerland (Chapter 3)
as well as other practical examples clearly show the
ability of submerged instream river training struc-
tures for bank protection and for diversification of
bed morphology: Micro groins efficiently protect
the rivers banks from erosion while guiding the flow
energy towards the center of the channel, where river
bed sediment is mobilized and ecologically valuable
scour pools and deposition areas are formed.
In the construction phase, the implementation of
micro groins saves on material compared to common
bank enhancement with rip rap: At Taverna river,
the use of micro groins proved to be 30% to 50% less
expensive than rip rap (Werdenberg et al. 2012).
IRT structures have been successfully imple-
mented in the alpine region as well as in flatland
rivers. While of course there are limits to this
method (e.g. extremely steep slopes, extremely dis-
turbed sediment regimes, bed widths below 1 m)
it can be argued that a broad range of flood pro-
tection and river restoration projects could benefit
ecologically and financially from the implementa-
tion of IRT structures.
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