The Copper River basin, the sixth largest watershed in Alaska, drains an area of 24,200 square miles in south-central Alaska. This large, glacier-fed river flows across a wide alluvial fan before it enters the Gulf of Alaska. The Copper River Highway, which traverses the alluvial fan, has been affected by channel planform reconfiguration. Currently (2012), two areas of the Copper River Highway are at risk: at Mile 38-43, the road grade is too low and the highway could be flooded by high flows of the Copper River, and at Mile 36, the main channel of the Copper River has migrated directly toward Bridge 339. Because Bridge 339 was not designed and built to convey the main flow of the Copper River, as much as 50 feet of scour occurred at the piers in 2011. The piers can no longer absorb the lateral or vertical loads, resulting in closure of the bridge and the Copper River Highway. The U.S. Geological Survey Flow and Sediment Transport with Morphologic Evolution of Channels (FaSTMECH) model was used to simulate the flow of the Copper River and produce simulations of depth, water-surface elevation, and velocity. At the Mile 38-43 area, FaSTMECH was used to analyze the effects of raising the road grade 5 feet, and at Mile 36, FaSTMECH was used to analyze the effects of constructing a channel to divert flow away from Bridge 339. Results from FaSTMECH indicate that if raising the road grade 5 feet in the Mile 38-43 area, a flood with an annual exceedance probability of 2 percent (400,000 cubic feet per second) would not overtop the highway. In the Bridge 339 area, results from FaSTMECH indicate that a design channel could divert flows as much as 100,000 cubic feet per second away from Bridge 339.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrology and modeling of flow conditions at Bridge 339 and Mile 38-43, Copper River Highway, Alaska