The Minimum Energy Loss (MEL) weir design
An overflow earthfill embankment dam
by Hubert CHANSON (
M.E., ENSHM Grenoble, INSTN, PhD (Cant.), DEng (Qld), Eur.Ing., MIEAust., IAHR Member, 13th Arthur Ippen awardee
School of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane QLD 4072, Autralia
Detailed photographs
Abot Hubert Chanson

Chinchilla weir
The concept of Minimum Energy Loss (MEL) weir was developed by late Professor G.R. McKAY. MEL weirs were designed specifically for situations where the river catchments are characterised by torrential rainfalls (during the wet summer) and by very small bed slope (So ~ 0.001). The design was developed to pass large floods with minimum energy loss, hence with minimum upstream flooding. The first MEL weir was the Clermont weir (QLD, Australia 1963) (Photo 7 to 13) (CHANSON 2003). The largest, Chinchilla weir (Qld, Australia 1973), is listed as a "large dam" by the International Commission on Large Dams (1984). A related design is the un-gated spillway inlet at Lake Kurwongbah (Sideling Creek dam). It was designed with the concept of minimum energy loss, in a fashion somehow similar to the design of minimum energy loss culvert inlet (McKAY 1971). The crest inlet fan converges into a 30.5 m wide channel ending with a small flip bucket. The MEL crest design allowed for an extra 0.457 m of possible water storage. Another MEL spillway inlet was designed at Swanbank dam (Fig. 5 & 6).

The purpose of a MEL weir is to minimise afflux and energy dissipation at design flow conditions (i.e. bank full), and to avoid bank erosion at the weir foot. The weir is curved in plan to converge the chute flow and the overflow spillway chute is relatively flat (Photo No. 1). Hence the downstream hydraulic jump is concentrated near the river centreline away from the banks and usually on (rather than downstream of) the chute toe. The inflow Froude number remains low and the rate of energy dissipation is small compared to a traditional weir. Ideally, a MEL weir could be designed to achieve critical flow conditions at any position along the chute and, hence, to prevent the occurrence of a hydraulic jump (CHANSON 1999, pp. 418-419). Practically this is not achievable because the variations of the tailwater flow conditions with discharge are always important. In practice, a weak jump takes place at the chute toe.

MEL weirs are typically earthfill structures protected by concrete slabs. Construction costs are minimum. A major inconvenient of a MEL weir design is the risk of overtopping during construction (e.g. Chinchilla weir). In addition, an efficient drainage system must be installed underneath the chute slabs.

A case study : Chinchilla MEL weir
The Chinchilla weir (QLD, Australia) is located on the Condamine river, part of the Murray-Darling basin (Photo No. 2). Completed in 1973 to provide irrigation water, the 14-m high weir is an earthfill overflow embankment with a 410-m crest length. The original volume of the reservoir was 9.78 E+6 m3 and the reservoir area is about 3.58 E+6 m2. The maximum spillway capacity is 850 m3/s and no dissipation structure was built. The overflow section is concrete-lined, with a series of drains to reduce seepage pressure. The right bank channel has a lower crest elevation to act as a low-flow channel. The Chinchilla weir was designed to give no afflux at design flow (850 m3/s, bank full). It passed a flow rate of 1,130 m3/s with a measured afflux of less than 100 mm in 1974 (TURNBULL and McKAY 1974).

During construction, the Chinchilla weir was overtopped, partly damaged and later completed as planned (TURNBULL and McKAY 1974) (1). Between 1973 and 2013, the weir was overtopped by a number of large flood events. The weir operated safely and properly, and inspections after the flood showed no damage.

The Minimum Energy Loss weir is basically an overflow embankment. Other types of overflow embankment design include the earth dam spillway with precast concrete blocks (CHANSON 2001, pp. 225-230) and the concrete protection of the downstream embankment slope (Photo No. 4). The former is a Russian design developed by late Professor Gordienko while the latter has been used in North-America and Australia, with roller compacted concrete (RCC) or conventional concrete.
Sandy Creek weir, Clermont


(1) Discussion with Professor C.J. APELT.

Detailed photographs

Photo No. 1 : Sketch of a Minimum Energy Loss weir (after CHANSON 1999).

Photo No. 2 : Chinchilla weir (Chinchilla QLD, Australia 1973) on 8 Nov. 1997 during low overflow. Designed with the assistance of Professor Gordon McKAY. Weir height: 14 m, Crest length: 410m, Spillway capacity: 850 m3/s, Condamine river. The Chinchilla weir is listed as a "large dam" by the International Commission on Large Dams (1984). More information : CHANSON, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999, pp. 417-421 & 316.

Photo No. 3 : Lemontree weir (Cecil Plains QLD, Australia 1979) on 8 Nov. 1997. Minimum Energy Loss weir on the Condamine river. More information : CHANSON, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999, pp. 417-421.

Photo No. 4 : An overflow embankment dam : Melton dam (VIC, Australia). Completed in 1916, the dam was heightened twice because of the rapid reservoir siltation. During the last refurbishment in 1994, the overflow stepped spillway was added. More information at {Embankment overflow stepped spillways: earth dam spillways with precast concrete blocks}.

Photo No. 5 and 6 : Swanbank Minimum Energy Loss spillway (Ipswich Qld, Australia 1965). Photo No. 5 : spillway inlet, view from the dam wall on 6 Sept. 2002; Photo No. 6 : spillway ogee, with the power station in background on 6 Sept. 2002. More about Swanbank power plant.

Photo No. 7 to 13 : Sandy Creek at Clermont QLD (Australia 1963): Photo No. 7 : Early stages of construction in 1962 (Courtesy of Mr Keith JAMES). Photo No. 8 : Downstream face near completion in early 1963 (Courtesy of Mr Keith JAMES). Photo No. 9 : Workers on the downstream face near completion in 1963 (Courtesy of Mr Keith JAMES). Photo No. 10 : view from the right bank on 3 Sept. 2002 (Courtesy of Mr Keith JAMES). Photo No. 11 : detail of the crest intake on 3 Sept. 2002 (Courtesy of Mr Keith JAMES). Photo No. 12 : Flood overflow on 8 March 1993 (Courtesy of Mr A.J. HOLMES). Photo No. 13 : Flood overflow in Feb. 1999 (Courtesy of Mr A.J. HOLMES).

Photo. No. 14 & 15 : Lake Kurwongbah dam (also called Sideling Creek dam). The dam is equipped with a Minimum Energy Loss spillway intake. Spilway operation on 22 May 2009 morning. Photo No.14: spillway intake with a very small overflow at 08:20. Photo No. 15: flip buicket operation; note the discharge confined to the low flow section.

Video movie on YouTube
Minimum Energy Loss weirs and spillways - {

YouTube channel of Hubert Chanson - {}

Lemontree weir


  CHANSON, H. (1995). "Hydraulic Design of Stepped Cascades, Channels, Weirs and Spillways." Pergamon, Oxford, UK, Jan., 292 pages (ISBN 0-08-041918-6).
  CHANSON, H. (1999). "The Hydraulics of Open Channel Flow : An Introduction." Butterworth-Heinemann, London, UK, 512 pages (ISBN 0 340 74067 1).
  International Commission on Large Dams (1984). "World Register of Dams - Registre Mondial des barrages - ICOLD." ICOLD, Paris, France, 753 pages.
   CHANSON, H. (2006). "Minimum Specific Energy and Critical Flow Conditions in Open Channels." Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering., ASCE, Vol. 132, No. 5, pp. 498-502 (ISSN 0733-9437). (PDF file at UQeSpace) (PDF file) (PDF file at EprintsUQ)
  CHANSON, H., and TOOMBES, L. (2001). "Experimental Investigations of Air Entrainment in Transition and Skimming Flows down a Stepped Chute. Application to Embankment Overflow Stepped Spillways." Research Report No. CE158, Dept. of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, July, 74 pages (ISBN 1 864995297). (PDF file at UQeSpace) (Download PDF files : Part 1 and Part 2)
  CHANSON, H. (2003). "Minimum Energy Loss Structures in Australia : Historical Development and Experience." Proc. 12th Nat. Eng. Heritage Conf., IEAust., Toowoomba Qld, Australia, N. Sheridan Ed., pp. 22-28 (ISBN 0-646-42775-X). (PDF file at UQeSpace) (Download PDF File)
   CHANSON, H. (2007). "Hydraulic Performances of Minimum Energy Loss Culverts in Australia." Journal of Performances of Constructed Facilities, ASCE, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 264-272 (ISSN 0887-3828). (PDF file) (Record at UQeSpace)
  McKAY, G.R. (1971). "Design of Minimum Energy Culverts." Research Report, Dept of Civil Eng., University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 29 pages & 7 plates. (PDF file at UQeSpace)
  TURNBULL, J.D., and McKAY, G.R. (1974). "The Design and Construction of Chinchilla Weir - Condamine River Queensland." Proc. 5th Australasian Conf. on Hydraulics and Fluid Mechanics, Christchurch, New Zealand, Vol. II, pp. 1-8.
Melton dam spillway


The writer acknowledges the advice of Professor Colin APELT (The University of Queensland). He acknowledges the assistance of Norman WORTHINGTON (Ipswich), Mr Keith JAMES and Mr A.J. HOLMES.


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Hubert CHANSON is aProfessor in Civil Engineering, Hydraulic Engineering and Environmental Fluid Mechanics at the University of Queensland, Australia. His research interests include design of hydraulic structures, experimental investigations of two-phase flows, applied hydrodynamics, hydraulic engineering, water quality modelling, environmental fluid mechanics, estuarine processes and natural resources. He has been an active consultant for both governmental agencies and private organisations. His publication record includes over 1200 international refereed papers and his work was cited over 6,500 times (WoS) to 22,500 times (Google Scholar) since 1990. His h-index is 43 (WoS), 47 (Scopus) and 76 (Google Scholar), and he is ranked among the 150 most cited researchers in civil engineering in Shanghai’s Global Ranking of Academics. Hubert Chanson is the author of twenty books, including "Hydraulic Design of Stepped Cascades, Channels, Weirs and Spillways" (Pergamon, 1995), "Air Bubble Entrainment in Free-Surface Turbulent Shear Flows" (Academic Press, 1997), "The Hydraulics of Open Channel Flow: An Introduction" (Butterworth-Heinemann, 1st edition 1999, 2nd editon 2004), "The Hydraulics of Stepped Chutes and Spillways" (Balkema, 2001), "Environmental Hydraulics of Open Channel Flows" (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2004), "Tidal Bores, Aegir, Eagre, Mascaret, Pororoca: Theory And Observations" (World Scientific, 2011), "Applied Hydrodynamics: an Introduction" (CRC Press, 2014). He co-authored three further books "Fluid Mechanics for Ecologists" (IPC Press, 2002), "Fluid Mechanics for Ecologists. Student Edition" (IPC, 2006) and "Fish Swimming in Turbulent Waters. Hydraulics Guidelines to assist Upstream Fish Passage in Box Culverts" (CRC Press 2021). His textbook "The Hydraulics of Open Channel Flows: An Introduction" has already been translated into Spanish (McGraw-Hill Interamericana) and Chinese (Hydrology Bureau of Yellow River Conservancy Committee), and the second edition was published in 2004. In 2003, the IAHR presented him with the 13th Arthur Ippen Award for outstanding achievements in hydraulic engineering. The American Society of Civil Engineers, Environmental and Water Resources Institute (ASCE-EWRI) presented him with the 2004 award for the Best Practice paper in the Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering ("Energy Dissipation and Air Entrainment in Stepped Storm Waterway" by Chanson and Toombes 2002), the 2018 Honorable Mention Paper Award for  "Minimum Specific Energy and Transcritical Flow in Unsteady Open-Channel Flow" by Castro-Orgaz and Chanson (2016) in the ASCE Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering, and the 2020 Outstanding Reviewer Award. The Institution of Civil Engineers (UK) presented him the 2018 Baker Medal. In 2018, he was inducted a Fellow of the Australasian Fluid Mechanics Society. Hubert Chanson edited further several books : "Fluvial, Environmental and Coastal Developments in Hydraulic Engineering" (Mossa, Yasuda & Chanson 2004, Balkema), "Hydraulics. The Next Wave" (Chanson & Macintosh 2004, Engineers Australia), "Hydraulic Structures: a Challenge to Engineers and Researchers" (Matos & Chanson 2006, The University of Queensland), "Experiences and Challenges in Sewers: Measurements and Hydrodynamics" (Larrate & Chanson 2008, The University of Queensland), "Hydraulic Structures: Useful Water Harvesting Systems or Relics?" (Janssen & Chanson 2010, The University of Queensland), "Balance and Uncertainty: Water in a Changing World" (Valentine et al. 2011, Engineers Australia), "Hydraulic Structures and Society – Engineering Challenges and Extremes" (Chanson and Toombes 2014, University of Queensland), "Energy Dissipation in Hydraulic Structures" (Chanson 2015, IAHR Monograph, CRC Press). He chaired the Organisation of the 34th IAHR World Congress held in Brisbane, Australia between 26 June and 1 July 2011. He chaired the Scientific Committee of the 5th IAHR International Symposium on Hydraulic Structures held in Brisbane in June 2014. He co-chaired the Organisation of the 22nd Australasian Fluid Mechanics Conference held as a hybrid format in Brisbane, Australia on 6-10 December 2020.
 His Internet home page is He also developed a gallery of photographs website {} that received more than 2,000 hits per month since inception.

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Energy Dissipation in Hydraulic Structures Applied Hydrodynamics Tidal boresApplied HydrodynamicsThe Hydraulics of Stepped Chutes and SpillwaysThe Hydraulics of Open Channel Flow: an IntroductionAir bubble entrainment in turbulent shear flowsHydraulic design of stepped cascades, channels, weirs and spillways  McGraw-Hill Interamericana 13th Ippen award (IAHR)