A travel-time and dispersion study using rhodamine dye was conducted on the Potomac River between Cumberland, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., a distance of 189 miles. The flow during the study was at approximately the 90-percent flow-duration level. A similar study was conducted by Wilson and Forrest in 1964 at a flow duration of approximately 60 percent.
The two sets of data were used to develop a generalized procedure for predicting travel-times and downstream concentrations resulting from spillage of water-soluble substances at any point along the river. The procedure will allow the user to calculate travel-time and concentration data for almost any spillage problem that occurs during periods of relatively steady flow between 50- and 95-percent flow duration.
A new procedure for calculating unit peak concentration was derived. The new procedure depends on an analogy between a time-concentration curve and a scalene triangle. As a result of this analogy, the unit peak concentration can be expressed in terms of the length of the _lye or contaminant cloud. The new procedure facilitates the calculation of unit peak concentration for long reaches of river. Previously, there was no way to link unit peak concentration curves for studies in which the river was divided into subreaches for study. Variable dispersive characteristics caused mainly by low-head dams precluded useful extrapolation of the unit peak-concentration attenuation curves, as has been done in previous studies.
The procedure is applied to a hypothetical situation in which 20,000 pounds of contaminant is spilled at a railroad crossing at Magnolia, West Virginia. The times required for the leading edge, the peak concentration, and the trailing edge of the contaminant cloud to reach Point of Rocks, Maryland (110 river miles downstream), are 295, 375, and 540 hours respectively, during a period when flow is at the 80-percent flow-duration level. The peak conservative concentration would be approximately 340 micrograms per liter at Point of Rocks.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Traveltime and dispersion in the Potomac River, Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, D.C.