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Streambed Stability and Scour Potential at Selected Bridge Sites in Michigan

U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4024
Lansing, Michigan 1997

David J. Holtschlag and Robert L. Miller


Contraction scour in the main stream channel at a bridge and local scour near piers and abutments can result in bridge failure. Estimates of contraction-scour and local-scour potentials associated with the 100-year flood were computed for 13 bridge sites in Michigan by use of semi-theoretical equations and procedures recommended by the Federal Highway Administration. These potentials were compared with measures of streambed stability obtained by use of data from 773 historical streamflow measurements, documenting 20,741 individual streambed soundings between 1959 and 1995. Analysis of these data indicate small, but statistically significant, monotonic trends in streambed elevation at 10 sites. No consistent patterns in relations between changes in streambed elevations and streamflow, flow velocity, or flow depth were evident. Also, estimates of contraction-scour potential were not correlated with measures of streambed stability, and no differences were detected between measures of streambed stability in the main channel and stability adjacent to piers. Despite the inconsistencies between measures of streambed stability and scour potential, data from a single, large flood (greater than a 100-year event) provided field evidence that the relation between scour and streamflow in highly nonlinear. This nonlinearity and the limited availability of measurements of extreme flood events may have reduced the utility of the empirical measures for confirming the nonlinear scour potential equations and procedures. Results of field surveys using ground-penetrating radar and tuned transducers showed limited ability to aid interpretation of historical scour conditions at four bridge sites. Additional research is needed to confirm the applicability of scour-potential equations for hydrogeologic conditions in Michigan.


(1) U.S. Geological Survey, 6520 Mercantile Way, Suite 5, Lansing, MI 48911,

(2) U.S. Geological Survey, 5957 Lakeside Blvd., Indanapolis, IN 46278-1996,


This study was done in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Holtschlag,D.J. and Miller, R.L., 1997, Streambed Stability and Scour Potential at Selected Bridge Sites in Michigan: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4024, 73 p.

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