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J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Research Laboratory Overview

National Hydraulics Research Program

Laboratory Purpose

The National Hydraulics Research Program includes the J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Laboratory at the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center. The Office of Infrastructure Research and Development’s Bridge Engineering Research Team (HRDI-40) is responsible for research related to the impacts of flooding on highway infrastructure.

The J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Laboratory has conducted research on highway hydraulics for more than 30 years. The Laboratory is a state-of-the-art research facility equipped with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling capabilities. The Laboratory’s instrumentation and experimental testing equipment includes a multifunctional flume system, force balance flume, and multiple soil-erosion resistance testing devices that have improved significantly over the past several years. Past research tasks in the laboratory included working on bridge scour, culvert hydraulics and aquatic organism issues, highway drainage concerns, and stream stability problems. The Laboratory has developed design guidelines for bridges that may become submerged in high flood risk areas and guidelines to prevent or combat the effects of scour around bridge foundations.

CFD modeling is conducted through collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory Transportation Research and Analysis Computing Center. This collaboration allows access to high-performance cluster computing. Access to these clusters enables the Hydraulics Laboratory to solve highway hydraulics research problems more efficiently.

The photo shows a birds-eye view of the FHWA Hydraulics Laboratory. The tilting flume is on the left. Next to the tilting flume is the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) station, ex situ scour testing device (ESTD), in situ scour testing lab sump device, and the force balance flume (from top to bottom). From top-to-bottom on the right: soil sample preparation station, presentation station, and the fish passage culvert flume.
Figure 1. The FHWA's J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Research Laboratory at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center.

Research Program

The Hydraulics Research Program is a part of the National Hydraulics Program and is coordinated with the National Hydraulics Team (NHT), including the Program Office (HQ), FHWA Resource Center, and Federal Lands Offices. The research program studies problems related to the six functional areas that were developed by NHT:

  • Hydrology and Extreme Weather
  • Highway Drainage
  • Culvert Hydraulics
  • Bridge Hydraulics
  • Scour, Steam Stability, and Scour Protection (Countermeasures)
  • Coastal Highways

Laboratory Description

The Hydraulics Laboratory is divided into seven zones for better laboratory management, maintenance, and capital improvements. The zones include:

  • Zone 1 – Multifunctional flume system
  • Zone 2 – Force balance flume system
  • Zone 3 – In situ scour testing device (ISTD), lab drill rig
  • Zone 4 – Lab soil erosion testing devices
  • Zone 5 – Particle image velocimetry (PIV), lasers, and cameras
  • Zone 6 – Laboratory office and 3D printing
  • Zone 7 – Laboratory machine shop

Figure 2. Hydraulics Laboratory zones
Figure 2. Hydraulics Laboratory zones.

Recent Accomplishments and Contributions


Hydraulics Laboratory Publications
Publication TitlePublication NumberYear
Advanced Methodology to Assess Riprap Rock Stability At Bridge Piers and AbutmentsFHWA-HRT-17-0542017
Hydraulic Performance of Shallow Foundations for the Support of Vertical-Wall Bridge AbutmentsFHWA-HRT-17-0132017
Updating HEC-18 Pier Scour Equations for Noncohesive SoilsFHWA-HRT-16-0452016
Scour in Cohesive SoilsFHWA-HRT-15-0332015
Fish Passage in Large Culverts with Low FlowFHWA-HRT-14-0642014
Submerged Flow Bridge Scour Under Clear Water ConditionsFHWA-HRT-12-0342012
Pier Scour in Clear-Water Conditions with Non-Uniform Bed MaterialsFHWA-HRT-12-0222012

For a complete list of publications produced by the Hydraulics Laboratory, use the Research Publications page.

Technical Assistance

Technical Assistance Subjects
AgencyFiscal YearSubject


FY15/FY16Scour Study for the Feather River Bridge over the Feather River in Sutter County, California


FY15/FY16Scour Countermeasure Study for the Middle Fork Feather River Bridge over the Middle Fork of the Feather River in Plumas County, California


FY15/FY16MnDOT ADA compliant grate study

USACE –LA District

FY15/FY16Pier Extension and Guide Wall Design Alternatives to Mitigate Local Scour Risk for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad Bridge over the Santa Ana River downstream of Prado Dam in Riverside County, CA


FY16User Guide is to assist HY-8 users in the application of HY-8’s Low Flow capability for identifying zones of lower velocity during low flows in culverts


FY16Improve design methodology for estimating scour in rock for abutments


FY17Design, fabricate and install two instrumentation robotics systems for the USACE/ERDC Cognitive Ecology and Ecohydraulics Laboratory


FY17Soil Sample Erosion Testing for Michigan DOT for M-20 Bridge over the Tittabawsee River

Western Federal Lands

FY17Testing Engineered Log Jams for road side erosion protection for a proposed project next to Hoh River Olympic National Park in Washington State.

FY: fiscal year; Caltrans: California Department of Transportation; MnDOT: Minnesota Department of Transportation; ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act; USACE: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; MD SHA: Maryland State Highway Administration; VDOT: Virginia Department of Transportation; USACE - ERDC: USACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center; MDOT: Michigan Department of Transportation.  

Other Accomplishments

In-Situ Scour Testing Device Patent: Patent No.: 9,322,142 (Issue Date: Tuesday, April 26, 2016).

Laboratory Capabilities and Equipment

For detailed explanations of the capabilities and equipment at the J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Research Laboratory, visit the pages on physical capabilities and numerical modeling. These pages include specifics on the laboratory zones and the Advanced Computing Center.

Laboratory Services

The Laboratory Services page lists the ongoing research conducted at the J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Research Laboratory. See this page for brief descriptions of ongoing tasks and their functional research areas.

Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2018