A reliable measure of the fresh-water outflow from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta is needed for the operation of the California Water Project and for the evaluation of the interrelated water problems of the delta and San Francisco Bay regions. The Chipps Island channel, immediately downstream from the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, is the most promising site for this flow measurement, but the conventional techniques used for evaluating steady flows cannot be employed there because the channel reach is in the tidal zone, and reversals of flow occur during each tidal cycle. Net outflows, which may be as little-as 2,000 cubic feet per second must necessarily be computed as the difference between the large ebbflow and floodflow volumes that move back and forth between the delta region and San Francisco Bay. Discharges during peak periods of the ebb and flood tidal cycles may exceed 300,000 cubic feet per second. In consequence, a very high degree of precision must be maintained in the gross flow measurements if meaningful computations of net outflow are to be made.
This report evaluates the probable accuracies that might be achieved by use of an AVM (acoustic velocity meter), a device which measures the stream velocity along a diagonal line across the channel. The study indicates that this line velocity will provide a stable index of the mean velocity in the channel and that such an index could be used as a primary parameter for the computation of discharge. Therefore, net outflows probably could be computed with the required accuracy by the use of such a device. The significant factors controlling the precision of measurement would be the stability of the channel geometry and streamline orientation, the precision with which the current-meter measurements needed for calibration of the system could be made, the instrumental calibration stability of the AVM system, and the length of period over which net outflows were computed.
The AVM system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not have the required instrumental stability for this precise flow measurement. However, other AVM systems now being produced commercially seem to have the desired error characteristics, and a system probably can be procured that will permit computation of the fresh-water outflow from the delta area.