2017 – Variability between Rainfall Runoff Methods and Observed Floods: Implications for Risk, Design, Dam Operation and Communities in Australia

James Stuart, Michael Hughes

Several recent rain events in Australia have resulted in impoundment flood levels where there was a surprising variability between the Annual Exceedance Probability (AEP) of the flood level and that of the rainfall. The issue was highlighted during the Queensland Flood Commission of Inquiry (QFCI, 2011) by the Queensland Dam Safety Regulator who suggested there may be a problem with design hydrology after a dam safety event that saw impoundment levels of around 1:9000 AEP with a 1:200 AEP catchment rainfall at North Pine Dam, north of Brisbane in 2011. Wide disparities have occurred at Wivenhoe Dam west of Brisbane, at Callide Dam, west of Gladstone and at other locations.

This paper examines the Generalised Short Duration Method (GSDM) (BoM, 2003) and the Revised Generalised Tropical Storm Method (GTSMR) (BoM, 2003) typically used for dam flood capacity assessments in an attempt to explain the variability outlined above and whether it is, in part, exacerbated by the methods themselves.

It finds that processes of generalising rainfall depth, intensity, temporal and spatial characteristics are working together with adopted hydrological methods to contribute to such variability, that in the worst case could lead to PMF levels in dams with much less rainfall than the associated PMP would infer.

Moreover, two key assumptions; that of AEP neutrality (AEP of rainfall is equal to that of the flood) and frequency of PMP based on catchment area, which are the foundations stones of our understanding of flood frequency for large structures, are found to be untested or simply interim advice. This leads to the conclusion that the likelihood of floods in the range 2000 year AEP to PMF may continue to show surprising variability, potentially of an order of magnitude or more, compared to the rainfall AEP.

There is a need for a review of these methods and potentially provision of interim guidance as these methods are currently being used in dam upgrade programs throughout Australia and are also the basis for emergency planning. The identification of these issues concerns current methods and are independent to any discussion on climate change.Prior to commencing, it is worth defining two terms that re-occur throughout the document:
Annual Exceedance Probability (AEP): The probability that a given rainfall total accumulated over a given duration will be exceeded in any one year. AEP Neutrality is the theory that assumes the probability of the rainfall can be transferred to the resulting flood.

Average Variability Method (AVM): Technique for estimating design temporal pattern of average variability to ensure AEP Neutrality in transition from PMP to PMP design flood

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