Predicting the effect of a pollutant spill on downstream water quality is primarily dependent on the water velocity, longitudinal mixing, and chemical/physical reactions. Of these, velocity is the most important and difficult to predict. This paper provides guidance on extrapolating travel-time information from one within bank discharge to another. In many cases, a time series of discharge (such as provided by a U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge) will provide an excellent basis for this extrapolation. Otherwise, the accuracy of a travel time extrapolation based on a resistance equation can be greatly improved by assuming the total flow area is composed of two parts, an active and an inactive area. For 60 reaches of 12 rivers with slopes greater than about 0.0002, travel times could be predicted to within about 10% by computing the active flow area using the Manning equation with n = 0.035 and assuming a constant inactive area for each reach. The predicted travel times were not very sensitive to the assumed values of bed slope or channel width.
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Predicting river travel time from hydraulic characteristics