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Journal of Hydraulic Research

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Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of

urban pluvial flooding

Professor edo Maksimovi , Associate Professor Duan Prodanovi , Researcher


Surajate Boonya-Aroonnet , Research Student Joo P. Leito IAHR Member , Senior


Lecturer Slobodan Djordjevi IAHR Member & Director Richard Allitt

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London, London,

SW7 2AZ, UK E-mail:

Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Civil Engineering,

University of Belgrade, Serbia E-mail:

Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute, Ministry of Science and Technology, Thailand

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College, London, SW7

2AZ, UK E-mail:

Centre for Water Systems, University of Exeter, North Park Road, Exeter, EX4 4QF, UK Email:

Richard Allitt Associates Ltd., Suite 3, The Forge Offices, Cuckfield Road, Staplefield,
Haywards, West Sussex, RH17 6ET, UK E-mail:
Version of record first published: 26 Apr 2010

To cite this article: Professor edo Maksimovi, Associate Professor Duan Prodanovi, Researcher Surajate BoonyaAroonnet, Research Student Joo P. Leito IAHR Member, Senior Lecturer Slobodan Djordjevi IAHR Member & Director
Richard Allitt (2009): Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of urban pluvial flooding, Journal of Hydraulic
Research, 47:4, 512-523
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00221686.2009.9522027


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Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009), pp. 512523

2009 International Association of Hydraulic Engineering and Research

Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of urban pluvial flooding
Drainage superficiel et analyse de chemins prfrentiels pour le modelage
dinondations dorigine pluviale en milieu urbain

IAHR Member, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London,
London, SW7 2AZ, UK. E-mail: c.maksimovic@imperial.ac.uk

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IAHR Member, Associate Professor, Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering,
Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Belgrade, Serbia. E-mail: eprodano@hikom.grf.bg.ac.rs
SURAJATE BOONYA-AROONNET, Researcher, Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute, Ministry of Science and Technology,
Thailand. E-mail: surajate@haii.or.th (author for correspondence)
JOO P. LEITO, IAHR Member, Research Student, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College
London, London, SW7 2AZ, UK. E-mail: j.leitao@imperial.ac.uk
IAHR Member, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Water Systems, University of Exeter, North Park Road,
Exeter, EX4 4QF, UK. E-mail: s.djordjevic@exeter.ac.uk
RICHARD ALLITT, Director, Richard Allitt Associates Ltd., Suite 3, The Forge Offices, Cuckfield Road, Staplefield, Haywards
Heath, West Sussex, RH17 6ET, UK. E-mail: richard.allitt@raaltd.co.uk
Research on improving an overland flow model is presented for urban pluvial flooding under the dual-drainage concept where sewer flow dynamically
interacts with overland flow. This occurs during heavy storms when the sewer system is surcharged. The system becomes pressurised and overland
flow increases by the additional volume flowing out from the sewer. To represent the overland flow realistically, a new methodology was developed
to automatically create the overland flow network which can interact with the drainage system. Use is made of high-resolution, accurate Digital
Elevation Model data collected by the LiDAR technique. This approach updates the current urban drainage models to urban flood models with detailed
representation of overland flow processes such as pond forming, flow through preferential surface pathways and surface drainage capacity. This work
advances new areas of urban flood management including improvement in real-time control and of links with rainfall now-casting, and short term
urban flood forecasting. The dual-drainage approach is appropriate for real-time applications.
Cette tude prsente les rsultats dun travail de recherche concernant lamlioration du modle de drainage superficiel en milieu urbain daprs le
concept Dual Drainage. Dans ce concept, le drainage dans les collecteurs interagit de faon dynamique avec le drainage la surface. Les interactions
se produisent pendant de forts vnements de prcipitation qui surchargent les collecteurs. Lorsque le rseau de collecteurs est sous pression, une
partie du volume deau peut sortir du rseau de collecteurs et est achemine vers le rseau superficiel. Une nouvelle mthodologie est en train dtre
dveloppe afin de reprsenter de faon relle lcoulement superficiel; celle-ci cre automatiquement le rseau dcoulement superficiel, ainsi que les
interactions de ce dernier avec le rseau de collecteurs. Des Modles Digitaux de Terrain de haute rsolution et prcision, rassembls principalement
par la technique LiDAR, sont utiliss pour la conception du rseau superficiel de drainage. La mthodologie dveloppe prsente une nouvelle
opportunit damliorer les actuels modles de drainage urbain, surtout dans la reprsentation dtaille des processus dcoulement superficiel, tels
que la reprsentation de zones de dpression du terrain, lidentification des chemins prfrentiels dcoulement et la dtermination de la capacit
dcoulement. Ce travail ouvre chemin de nouveaux secteurs en rapport avec un modelage plus volu dans la gestion dinondations en temps rel
en milieu urbain. Lapproche Dual Drainage ci prsente est considre efficace dans les applications de prvision en temps rel.

Keywords: GIS, LiDAR, Modelling, Overland flow, Urban pluvial flooding

1 Introduction

quantification of the flood risk is needed. Urban floods may be

caused by a number of factors. One of the main causes is the limited capacity of the drainage system which, during extreme wet
weather conditions, may result in sewer flow being discharged

Urban flooding is a costly environmental hazard. To minimise

the risk from flood events, improvement in prediction and

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Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)

Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of urban pluvial flooding

to the catchment surface where it interacts with the incoming

overland flow. The flood water either fills natural or constructed
surface storage or subsequently travels across the terrain through
preferential pathways that create a surface flow network typically
called the major system, while the minor system refers to an
underground sewer network.
Major systems in urban areas typically comprise roads, footpaths and natural ground depressions as well as small water
courses. The major system can transfer flood water over significant distances causing flooding at locations remote from the
point at which the drainage system capacity is exceeded. Surface runoff from adjacent areas that have no direct connection
to the sewer system also contributes to flood flow. Therefore,
urban drainage modelling requires a detailed representation of
the overland flow network of ponds and pathways to reliably represent surface retention storage, flow paths and volume conveyed.
Although surface pathways over urban areas are mainly directed
by buildings and streets, water often flows elsewhere through
gardens and other open spaces. It is therefore important to have a
realistic depiction of terrain and urban structures on the surface.
Use of sophisticated hydraulic models as diagnostic, design
and decision-support tools has become a standard practice in the
water industry. Widely used conventional urban drainage models
can deal with rainfall-runoff analysis within the minor system
only under the effects of local storms. Significant progress has
been made in wrapping conventional urban drainage models with
sophisticated interfaces and gluing routines (Elgy et al. 1993,
Fuchs et al. 1994), to link them with a Geographical Information System (GIS) for the automatic creation of input files
(Lhomme et al. 2004). Additionally, results presented recently
by Ball and Alexander (2006), Mignot et al. (2008) and Vojinovic et al. (2006) contribute to the general understanding of
aspects of urban flooding processes. An integrated approach to
modelling with minor/major system integration has been advocated as a more realistic method of flooding simulation (Mark
and Parkinson 2005, Schmitt et al. 2004).
However, to date, urban drainage simulation models did not
accurately represent several important features of surface flow,

overland flow taking place during heavy storms,

flow into and from the underground drainage network,
flow along streets (as primary preferential paths),
surface ponds, and
flow across the urban catchment along preferential paths
different from streets (Prodanovic et al. 1998).

Detailed problem identification and concerns were presented by

Maksimovic and Prodanovic (2001) who claim that to increase
reliability, modelling practices have to realistically represent
surface flow processes and their interactions with flow in sewers.
High-resolution Digital Elevation Models (DEM) generated
by the LIght Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) technique make a
detailed analysis of overland flow achievable, although improvements are still needed to fully utilise this technology in the context
of urban flood management. Conventional model concepts of
surface flow do not benefit from these newly available features.


This opens a new possibility to enhance model capability for the

next generation of urban flood modelling beyond the limitations
reported by Mark et al. (2004).
Originally described by Prodanovic (1999) and Djordjevic
(2001) to model overland flow in the urban environment caused
by extreme rainfall, surface flow processes and modelling concepts that generate a temporary network of ponds and pathways
are described herein with a key role in routing overland flow during heavy storms. Flow in this network interacts with the flow
in a surcharged sewer network. Based on the dual-drainage
approach (Djordjevic et al. 1999), or 1D-1D approach as
referred to by other researchers, vertical interactions are identified
between major and minor systems through manholes or groups of
several gully inlets as a dynamic link between 1D flow in pipes
and 1D flow in surface pathways and ponds. Carr and Smith
(2006), Chen et al. (2005), Dey and Kamioka (2006) Chen et al.
(2007) have described the 1D-2D approach, where 1D sewer
flow is integrated with 2D surface flow simulation. Interactions
between the two models take place between underground network nodes and surface computational grid cells. This approach
enables more realistic analysis of overland flows than the 1D1D approach, especially in extreme events in which flood flows
are not confined to street/road profiles. Also, treatment of buildings and other urban structures is more exact, which was studied
both experimentally (Testa et al. 2007) and numerically (SoaresFrazo et al. 2008). However, 2D models require a higher level
of spatial detail and much shorter time steps than 1D models,
hence they are computationally more demanding. This approach
is impractical for real-time representation or rapid forecasting of
the flooding process.
A set of GIS modules was developed and used to define the
various phases of overland flow and its interaction with timedependent water bodies, created as ponds, and the computational
(and physical) inlets to the sewer network. The sections below
describe the concept and modelling processes and outline the software system developed to perform these tasks. Also described are
the results of a sensitivity analysis and of testing the methodology
on a selected case study at Town A in south UK. The initial version of the tool was reported by Boonya-aroonnet et al. (2007).
It is emphasised however that the methodology for overland flow
modelling can be coupled with other physically-based urban
drainage simulation software packages which use quality GIS for
definition of processes on the surface.
2 Problem description and research aims
2.1 Pluvial urban flooding
Pluvial flooding is caused by extreme local storms. To reliably
model urban pluvial flooding, it is necessary to realistically represent the urban fabric (both land use and terrain) in its complexity.
Physically-based concepts in rainfall-runoff modelling have to
be implemented in both the overland and the sewer network part
of the system and the interaction of these two systems should be
analysed throughout the storm event and between events. The critical phase occurs when the sewer network capacity is exceeded.


Maksimovic et al.

Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)





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Figure 1 Interactions through drainage inlets (manholes) between surface and subsurface systems during storm events (a) free inflow, inlet as a weir,
(b) submerged inflow, inlet as an orifice, and (c) outflow (Djordjevic et al. 2005)

Some parts of the network become surcharged and flow through

inlets change direction in the cases (a) to (c) (Fig. 1). During
heavy storms pluvial flooding can take place even if flow in the
sewer network is with a free surface, i.e. the sewer network capacity is not exceeded, if inlet capacity is insufficient to capture
surface run-off.
Conventional modelling of overland flow assumes thin sheet
flow over a plane surface with an area equivalent to the subcatchment area. Although this assumption can yield acceptable results,
during heavy storms it may lead to false predictions because in
flood vulnerable areas the actual flow pattern is significantly different from the simplified sheet flow. Water tends to pond and flow
along preferential paths not only along streets but also between
buildings and through other open spaces, and it interacts with
outflows from the pressurised sewer network. Conventional commercial urban drainage simulation packages are not developed
to appropriately consider such situations. They cannot automatically create overland flow features such as ponds and preferential
paths, thus they cannot represent the extent of pluvial flooding
within the 1D-1D framework. The approach presented herein
overcomes this difficulty by introducing an innovative analysis of
terrain and flood pattern which enables more reliable and realistic
analysis of the surface flooding process.

2.2 Modelling approaches and limitations

To enable minimising of flood risk in urban areas, modelling
approaches to improve the prediction and quantification of flood
risk have evolved significantly in recent years. Default approach
in some conventional urban drainage models is to assume virtual
reservoirs on top of the manholes in which surcharged floodwater from the manhole is temporarily detained and then returned
to the sewer if the conditions in the sewer network permit. This
method cannot be used for realistic assessment of flood extent
and flood damage.
A significant step forward has been made by the dual-drainage
concept (1D-1D), where the urban surface is treated as a network of open channels and ponds (major system) connected to
the sewer system (minor system). These systems are linked via
weir/orifice-type elements representing inlets and holes on manhole covers, through which direct interaction between the two
systems takes place (Djordjevic 2001, Mark et al. 2004, Okamoto

et al. 2007, Leandro et al. 2009). Current software packages

(InfoWorks CS, MOUSE, SOBEK, SWMM) are also capable
of simulating flooding under 1D-1D, but their methodology to
estimate overland flow assumes manual (hence subjective) definition of surface flow paths, which is laborious and does not
necessarily allow for a realistic representation of surface flow
processes. Using high resolution and accurate LiDAR DEMs,
automatic creation of the surface flow network is achievable.
However, some of the limitations of this method are inherent
in its 1D-1D nature (Djordjevic et al. 2005). The obtained local
(surface) flood flow depths and velocities enable analysis of different flood mitigation schemes, damage evaluation, or flood risk

2.3 Research aims

The principal aim of the research presented herein was to develop
and test a new surface flow generation tool to be used in
urban drainage simulation. The potential of a 1D-1D model was
enhanced by more accurate GIS-based automatic generation of
the surface flow network to achieve this goal.
LiDAR based DEMs have been used to identify the location
and characteristics of ponds, the definition of flow paths and their
cross-sectional geometry and surface flow network connectivity.
A GIS-based tool customised for urban areas has been produced
and linked with an existing simulation model. Hence, the interactions between the two systems can be modelled reliably, and
the performance of the underground sewer system can be better
assessed. Subsequently, the developed tools were analysed and
tested using real data sets from a selected case study site.
The approach is based on the spatial analysis of DEM data and
the creation of separate layers for surface ponds and preferential
surface flow pathways. The main steps of the procedure are:
Preparation of DEM data: DEM has to be hydraulically
appropriate; i.e. without large number of flat areas and sinks
(pits) and also with the correct alignment of slopes. In this
phase, data reduction is also needed to reduce the number of
points in the LiDAR raster image thereby avoiding the use of
extremely large data files.
Identification of ponds and flood vulnerable areas: The
modified DEM is subsequently used to identify the location of depressions or ponds, and to define their depth

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Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of urban pluvial flooding

(elevation)-volume relationships. These ponds define possible

flood vulnerable areas.
Connectivity analysis: The DEM which also includes urban
(man-made) features such as streets and buildings is used with
an algorithm for defining surface pathways. These pathways
connect the previously identified ponds in order to form a
surface flow network.
Automatic subcatchment delineation: Sub-areas (initially
modelled as sheet flow) contributing flow to individual
drainage elements are determined from the DEM and introduced to the model via nodes and/or links (depending on which
model is used).
Assessment of pathway geometry: Suitable prismatic shapes,
representative of channel cross-sections are determined from
the DEM in the vicinity of the pathway. The cross-section
quantifies hydraulic capacity of surface flow paths.
Assessment of roughness coefficients: Based on the imperviousness of surface cover where a pathway is located, the
roughness coefficients are estimated as relatively low values
corresponding to roads and paved surfaces and higher values
for green areas.

The results of the above analyses are introduced into a model

for the integrated hydraulic analysis of the interactions of the
buried drainage network and the surface network of ponds (storage nodes) and pathways. In this way, temporal and spatial
extent of surface flooding can be modelled and analysed more

3 Concepts to improve overland flow modelling

3.1 Physically-based modelling
Traditional conceptual model methods of analysis based on
concepts such as the rational formula, time of concentration, linear reservoirs, or regression analysis fail in analysing flows on
urban catchment during floods. Clearly such methodologies have
limited capacity to reliably model flow dynamics. In physicallybased modelling approaches, water movement over the surface
(as well as in sewer pipes) is modelled by solving the appropriate
approximation of mass and momentum conservation equations.
It is then feasible to simulate the features of urban areas more
To prepare the input data for improved overland flow modelling, the six activities identified in the previous section have to
be carried out. The surface runoff has to be routed by the application of the full Saint-Venant equations simultaneously with the
underground sewer network (dual-drainage system). The advantage of physically based approaches is that once the model has
been calibrated, any changes in physical characteristics of the
catchment (e.g. increased imperviousness due to urbanization),
change of network topology, or adding new pipes can be reliably
described by updating subcatchment characteristics but without
the need for re-calibration of surface run-off model parameters
as it would be necessary with conceptual models.


3.2 DEM enhancement for hydraulic modelling

Performance and reliability of overland flow models are highly
dependent on DEM quality in terms of accuracy and resolution.
Physical processes such as surface flow, surface retention, and
surface conveyance along preferential pathways are essential elements in modelling urban flooding processes. These require fine
and accurate terrain representation data; e.g. DEM with horizontal resolution less than 5 m. To properly represent the urban
features such as houses, buildings or streets and DEM vertical
accuracy preferably 5 cm to adequately distinguish sidewalk
from street.
Imperfections in the DEM may directly compromise the
results of the surface network delineation model, so it is important
to have a DEM with as little noise as possible. Since the quality
of DEM mostly depends on the source of data, a detailed DEM
analysis and pre-processing are required. The best approach is
to produce a custom tailored DEM with a pre-specified resolution (Garbrecht and Martz 2000). However, in the majority of the
cases, this solution is cost prohibitive, and a DEM data set that
is already available is used. Therefore, the usual procedure is to
correct the existing DEM, as described below.
It is becoming common in urban areas that DEM data are
available from more than one source. Usually each source has
a different resolution and accuracy. Thus, detailed analysis of
the various sources of DEM data and uncertainty quantification
is necessary. Another problem occurs if the area of interest is
only partly covered by a high resolution data set (LiDAR for
example) and the remaining area covered by a low resolution
DEM. One option is to use only the low resolution data set. With
this approach, no discrepancies are identified, however, the high
resolution data set which is of paramount importance to surface
flow modelling is not used. A second option is to merge the two
data sets. In this case, several solutions can be used.
Pit cells and flat areas can be considered as errors associated
with DEM representations of low relief areas. Pit cells do not
have lower adjacent cells; consequently, there is no downslope
flow path to an adjacent cell. Flat areas are characterised by a
set of adjacent cells with the same elevation. These problems are
usually inherent to the acquisition processes or are generated by
interpolation processes.
Freeman (1991) presents two views in dealing with pit cells
and flat areas in DEM. The first assumes pit cells and flat areas
are real terrain features that need to be considered as such during
drainage analysis. The second considers them as spurious features
that should be corrected or removed prior to drainage analysis, so
as to create a depressionless DEM. An intermediate approach,
known as conditional DEM processing, has produced acceptable
results in this study.
Assuming that small corrections of the DEM are needed to
guarantee that flow pathway algorithms run with no problems,
changes (depression filling and artificial sloping of flat terrain)
and smoothing techniques should be kept to a minimum. Potential methods to solve these problems were presented by Band
(1986), Garbrecht and Martz (1996), Jenson and Domingue
(1988), Martz and De Jong (1988), Martz and Garbrecht (1995),


Maksimovic et al.

Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)


OCallaghan and Mark (1984) and Prodanovic (1999). These

techniques include frequency analysis of DEM data and low-pass
filtering. These techniques have been enhanced by improving
existing de-flattening routines and combining current pit cells
removal algorithms (Leito et al. 2006).


Exit point







Figure 3 Interaction between manholes and surface pond

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3.3 Identification of ponds and flood vulnerable areas

In most cases, flood events occur during extreme rainfall when
surface runoff is combined with water flowing out from the surcharged underground drainage system. These two quantities of
water, which would normally blend and flow, are routed along
the preferential surface pathways (including streets) and they
subsequently fill local depressions (ponds). Ponds have their
own characteristics and flow dynamics. They can be isolated
or mutually connected, and the flow pattern into and out of a
pond may change quickly in time. To highlight flood-vulnerable
areas with the DEM, it is necessary to identify and characterise
The DEM raster image is utilised to identify and analyse
flood vulnerable areas. The algorithm developed for this purpose searches the entire DEM and identifies the local points with
elevation lower than surrounding areas. Based on the DEM, the
pond boundary and storage volume for each low point is delineated using an iterative grow-up routine. The natural exit point
is identified as the termination criterion for the pond delineation
(Fig. 2). The exit point is the first location where the water inside
the pond would start to overflow. It acts as the starting point for
the flood pathway over the catchment surface. Hence, it is necessary to define the hydraulic characteristics of the outlet at this
point such that the discharge capacity of the pond outflow hydrograph can be computed as realistically as possible for a range of
flood depths.

3.4 Interaction between ponds and sewer network

The major and minor systems are physically linked at manholes, gullies or inlets as shown in Fig. 3. Points of vertical
flow exchange are located by the GIS tool where manholes stay
inside the analysed ponds polygon. The connection type has to be
identified and its potential interaction quantified (Leandro et al.
2007). Flow out from the manhole is a function of the difference

Pond boundary

6.0 7.0 6.0

11.0 10.9

7.0 5.0 8.0

9.0 8.0 8.0


10.8 11.0
11.0 10.7 10.8 10.6



Exit point
















in piezometric level in the manhole and the water sheet above

the manhole. If the manhole is within the pond boundary, the
surcharged flow starts filling the pond. When the pond is full, the
excess flow leaves the pond and flows over the catchment surface. After or during the storm, flood water that remained in the
pond returns to the drainage system through the same manholes.
The rest of the water flows downstream along the appropriate
preferential pathways. The model has been developed such that
the identified interactions and mutual movements of flood water
between the two systems can be represented realistically.

3.5 Connectivity analysis

The urban surface is a complex array of different types of permeable and impermeable surfaces that typically comprise roadways
and footpaths which are generally lower than the surrounding
areas. Such pathways can transfer flow over significant distances
so that flooding can occur at locations that are remote from the
source of the flood water. Overland flow accumulates in depressions, and once the depression is filled, it will overtop and create
a surface flow. This flow will either overflow directly into an adjacent depression or will flow along a connecting pathway until it
enters another depression or the sewer network via a gulley inlet
or manhole. It may also leave the catchment, and so this volume of water has to be subtracted from the water balance of the
The rolling ball technique (using flow direction image to
determine flow path to the next surrounding cell) is implemented
to trace the water path and delineate all processes (Fig. 4). Starting at the natural exit points of the identified ponds or surcharged
manholes, the analysis determines pathways by preferential flow
directions based on terrain slope, taking into account the presence of buildings and other features that are included in the DEM.
In cases where insufficiently high DEM resolution prevents the
rolling ball algorithm from capturing all relevant small features
on the surface, a generated network of pathways may have to
be enhanced manually. Thus the ponds and pathways are representative of the major flooding related features of the urban
From Fig. 4, the following types of surface pathways in an
urban area can be summarised as:


10.1 10.3 10.3 10.4 10.6 10.5

Natural exit point

Figure 2 Pond delineation (numbers in cells are elevations)


from pond to downstream pond via pond link;

from pond to downstream manhole or gully;
from pond out of the catchment;
spillway between two mutually connected ponds;
from surcharged manhole to downstream manhole;

Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)

Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of urban pluvial flooding

Pond 3



1 US/DS elevations
2 Average slope

Pond 2


3 Straighten length
4 Roughness

Pond 4


5 Calculated shape




Pond 1

Cross Section 5

(vi) from manhole to downstream pond, and

(vii) from surcharged manhole to the outlet of the catchment.

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3.6 Automatic sub-catchment delineation

Automatic sub-catchment delineation is the process of automatic
partitioning of its surface into smaller areas that are to be drained
by each computational node (or each pipe/pathway, depending on
the urban drainage model used). The procedure takes into account
the DEM and the surface features described in the cover images
(land uses). The sub-catchments are delineated to comply with
surface flow patterns and are created for nodes (manholes and/or
surface ponds) or links (pipes and/or surface pathways). The procedure uses a raster-based analysis of terrain slope with robust
upward search algorithm for contributing pixels (Prodanovic
et al. 1998). The procedure is designed to account for variability of flow angles over different types of land use and artificial
objects (streets, buildings, fences). Grid cells with slope smaller
than a defined threshold are taken as horizontal.
In an urban system there would be some bifurcations where
flow could partition between the major and minor systems. The
delineation firstly identifies sub-catchments for the minor system and marks this area as sewered. Then the sub-catchments
for the major system will be delineated. The GIS tool subsequently extracts the parameters (for example areas, average
slope or weighted slope, percentages of different cover areas
within the subcatchment) required for computing inflow hydrographs for both major and minor systems. Having hydrographs
for the major system (ponds or pathways) is essential during
intensive storm conditions if the overland flow originating from
the upper part of the catchment outside sewered area can significantly contribute to the runoff in drainage system in the
lower part.
Sub-catchment parameters are estimated from attributes available for each kind of cover object (type of area, imperviousness,
surface storage retention, connectivity with sewer system, population density, property value for flood damage assessment, etc.).
By overlapping cover image with the subcatchment image, the
GIS tool computes the parameters needed by the model for each
delineated subcatchment: area, slope (average or weighted), percentages of different cover areas within subcatchment, or shape
(Prodanovic et al. 1998).


Pond or

Dist (m)


Trapezoidal or Arbitrary

Types of surface pathways calculated from DEM


Figure 4

DTM grid




Pond or




Figure 5 Estimation of pathway geometry (a) 3D DEM showing identified flow path, (b) number of cross-section lines drawn perpendicularly
to path, (c) arbitrary shapes of cross sections plotted as found from DEM,
and (d) averaged output with two choicestrapezoidal or arbitrary

3.7 Estimation of pathway geometry

Surface pathways are approximated by prismatic open channels. To model flow in pathways, the following information
is required: geometry of open-channel, upstream/downstream
elevations, roughness and actual length between two ponds or
surface nodes. The process of the approximation is presented
in Fig. 5. The algorithm uses the previously extracted pathways
and draws equi-distant cross-sections along each pathway length
(Fig. 5b). It then uses the surrounding DEM to estimate and
average the areas of each cross-section (Fig. 5c). Finally, the
algorithm allows users to select the shape of the channel crosssection which can be either an arbitrary set of points (irregular
shape) or e.g. trapezoidal (Fig. 5d).
If an arbitrary shape is selected, the algorithm will determine
the average elevation of the entire pathway at each offset distance
from the centreline (Fig. 5c). If the trapezoidal shape is selected,
the algorithm will compute the average flow areas at different
depths along the length of each pathway (so called stage-flow
area curve) and then will find the geometry of a trapezoidal
shape that fits the stage-flow area curve. The calculation is done
by recognising that the relation between flow area A and depth
H of trapezoidal shape is quadratic. The channels bottom width
B and the slope of channels sides 1/m are the unknowns to be
calculated. Least-square for the polynomial regression is used to
find these two unknown variables.
4 Specific details of GIS procedures for automatic
surface network creation
4.1 Removal of small ponds
When analysing a high resolution DEM (e.g. on a 1 m 1 m
grid), it is likely that a large number of small ponds will be
generated. They result either from existing pit cells or errors


Maksimovic et al.

Before removal

Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)

After removal

Depth = 0.05 m Yes

Volume = 4 m3 Yes
Depth = 0.25 m No
Volume = 25 m3 No

Path 1001

Joining cell

Depth = 0.25 m
Volume=25 m3

Depth = 0.05 m Yes

Volume = 10 m3 No
Depth = 0.09 m Yes
Volume = 7 m3 No


Path 1

Path 1

Depth = 0.05 m
Volume = 10 m3

Path 2

Path 2

Path 3

Path 3

Depth = 0.10 m
Volume = 7 m3

Figure 7 Procedure for merging pathways at a joining grid cell

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Figure 6 Pond removal with 0.10 m depth and 5 m3 volume thresholds

in the DEM. Analysis of small pond removal is required to

reduce the computational burden by keeping the removal under
control, otherwise large amounts of storage will be ignored in the
The conventional method for pit cell removal in GIS is to fill
all small ponds (sinks) in the DEM with a threshold depth. However, filling DEM will create flat areas which are unfavourable for
determination of flow direction, as discussed previously. Herein a
combination of threshold volume and depth of delineated storages
is employed. Ponds smaller and shallower than the thresholds are
removed and the DEM remains unaltered to preserve slope features required for the pathway delineation procedure. An example
of pond removal is shown in Fig. 6. The ponds to be discarded
have to satisfy both thresholds of depth and volume to ensure that
shallow ponds with large storage volumes and deep ponds with
small surface areas are not excluded.

4.2 Removal of ponds inside buildings

DEM analysis for ponds can identify depressions located inside
the building area. This particular case occurs if there are garden
or roof storage features constructed inside the building perimeter.
These storages can be modelled as initial losses from the effective rainfall surface retention, but in this model consideration they
have no surface linkage to the overland drainage network. Therefore they are to be discarded from the surface runoff network.
The developed tool recognises buildings by the raster image that
was pre-processed from an OS master map by common GIS practices. Buildings and pond layers are overlaid to identify ponds to
be removed.

4.3 Discontinuity of pathways during delineation process

Flow pathways have their points of origin and termination (exit).
Several terminating conditions for pathway delineation were
identified previously (Fig. 4). However, the delineation process
occasionally stops without satisfying any of the defined terminating conditions (for example if a pathway enters a pit cell or a flat
area). This problem is common for raster-based algorithms and
can be severe with low quality DEM data. An automatic search
method from the path stop point within a buffer region is used
to trace an exit from the problematic point and to continue the
pathway delineation. The criteria to determine the exit are elevation, distance and presence of buildings. The algorithm selects an
exit by comparing the heights between the stop and potential exit

points within a user defined surrounding area (buffer radius). The

exit point must be lower with height difference greater than the
elevation threshold, usually 1 to 2 cm for a fine DEM, depending
on the decimal precision of the height data. A reasonable buffer
radius is about 20 to 50 m.

4.4 Surface junctions

Pathways identified using the procedure described in Sec. 3.5
form a surface network in which it is likely that parts of two or
more pathways will come close to each other and possibly overlap over a certain distance. In reality, these parts of pathways will
merge and function as a single channel. During surface network
creation, this situation is identified by looking at the proximity of pathways such that if parts of two or more pathways are
closer than the specified threshold (usually DEM cell size), they
are merged forming a new computational node (termed surface
junction) at the meeting point. From that point downstream, several pathways are combined into one pathway. Figure 7 gives an
example of this procedure. Path 1 and path 2 come close and a
new pathway (path 1001) replaces the downstream portions of
the original paths.

4.5 Pathway cross-section analysis

This analysis is used to quantify the carrying capacity of the pathways by calculating the hydraulically equivalent cross-sectional
shape. In this analysis, the parameters involved are (Fig. 8):
(i) cross-section interval: this parameter should be equal to or
larger than the DEM cell size,
(ii) buffer radius: pathways along streets should have enough
radius to capture both sides of street curbs,
(iii) maximum depth: this is to define where to stop when
buildings are on the side of pathways (usually 1 m),


Buffer radius

Cross section interval

Figure 8 Parameters required for shape analysis of cross section

Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)

Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of urban pluvial flooding

(iv) minimum depth: this is to define that this pathway is

considered to be flat, and
(v) distance between two cross-sections along pathways: this
will result in a number of cross-sections along each pathway
to be analysed and averaged.

Downloaded by [] at 05:32 07 September 2012

5 Tools developed for surface flow delineation

in urban areas
Overland flow sub-system modelling is organised in a series
of modules including DEM analysis, data preparation, input
to hydrodynamic models, post-processing and graphical (GIS
based) presentation of results. All modules are wrapped together
within one GIS tool for automatic generation of the surface pathway network across an urban area for the links with hydraulic
The tool usage can be divided into five main steps: (1) subcatchment delineation, (2) pond delineation (also identifying
major-minor interactions), (3) pathway delineation (connectivity analysis and locating surface junction nodes), (4) pathway
geometry extraction, and (5) generation of output files. Currently, the results are exported as an ASCII text file. It contains
all the information needed by the hydraulic model for running
1D-1D flood simulation. Figure 9 illustrates the developed tool
The SIPSON 1D/1D dual-drainage simulation model
(Djordjevic 2001) was integrated with the developed tool presented herein into a methodological framework for advanced
modelling of urban pluvial flooding (Fig. 10). The algorithms are
used to automatically generate the sets of data; i.e. the surface
network with full topology (as nodes and links) with simulation parameters and DEM-dependent parameters used for the
rainfall-runoff model including sub-catchment areas, percentage
of pervious and impervious covers, and shape of sub-catchments.

Figure 9 Tool based on described concepts for generating surface

overland flow network and simulation inputs. Given values are examples


DTM Enhancement
2. Drainage System

1. Surface System

Sewer network

Sinks & Exits

Pond catchment

Connecting Paths



1D Surface Network
(Nodes & Links)


Undrained Areas


Out of Catch

R-R model

Sewer Network
(Manhole & Pipes)

R-R Model

Majorminor systemmodel (SIPSON)
1D surface pathway + 1D sewer network

Figure 10 Methodological framework for advanced modelling of urban

pluvial flooding

6 Case study
This section was to trial the use of a 1D surface flow model in conjunction with an InfoWorks model in a sub-catchment of Town
A. The study area is a location where two valleys combine to
form a single valley. There are four particular locations within
the catchment which experience frequent flooding due to a combination of hydraulic incapacity in minor system, major system and
operational problems such as root ingress and pumping station
failure due to power supply failure. The four locations (Fig. 11)
with notable historical flooding are described as follows:
Street-1 is a road running along the valley side. There is a
low point in the middle of the road which fills up with water to
a depth of 150 to 250 mm until the water reaches the level of
a spill point into a narrow alleyway between houses (Fig. 12).
The water from here contributes to the flooding in Street-2.

Figure 11 Surface flow network produced, an example of Town A in

the south UK


Maksimovic et al.

Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)

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Figure 12 Alleyway between houses known to be in operation when


Street-2 has flooding primarily from severe root ingress at

a number of locations. The worst affected sections of this
sewer have been replaced. Flooding is no longer reported as a
problem but any flooding would run down into Street-3 and
contribute to the flooding there.
Street-3 is a road traversing across the main valley at ninety
degrees to the valley direction. The flooding location is at the
lowest point of Street-3 at the valley bottom where there is
also a row of terraced houses on the downhill side of the road.
The flooding fills the low point of the road to a depth of 300 to
400 mm until the water reaches the level of a spill point into a
downstream road which then flows down towards Street-4.
Street-4 is in the flat coastal area where the road runs at 90
to the line of the valley has petered out by this point. Flooding
here is due to overland flow from upstream road which is either
because of runoff from extreme storms or because of power
failure at pumping station.
There were two different versions of the model used herein as
described below:
The Base Model is the conventional InfoWorks verified
model which assumes storage of the outflow from the surcharged sewers in the hypothetical flood cones, thus having
no overland flow routing. The contributing areas in this model
were assigned to the modelled manholes in the conventional

manner. The Base Model comprises 363 nodes, 359 manholes, 4 orifices, 12 weirs, 9 pumps, 14,263 m of sewer, pipe
diameters of 150 to 900 mm, 254 sub-catchments with 118 ha
total area. Manhole cover levels vary between +51.34 m and
+1.24 m.
The Enhanced Model is a derivative of the Base Model in
which the surface runoff and flooding (in ponds) has been
based on the surface flood module developed by the UWRG
and described herein. The overland flow routes were identified by the developed GIS tool and the LiDAR DEM of the
catchment was used. No changes were made to the contributing areas which remained allocated to modelled nodes. The
cross-sections of the overland flow links were confined to
open rectangular or open trapezoidal channels. The Enhanced
Model contains the sewer and manhole data in the same
structure as the previous model. Importantly the routing of
the drainage pathways is based on the DEM rather than the
modellers time consuming walk around the catchment. In
the Enhanced Model the drainage pathways used were those
defined from the estimated channel data and therefore comprised a mixture of open rectangular and open trapezoidal
channels. In addition to the basic sewer data the final version
of the model (after data clean up) included 192 break nodes
(to join channels), 507 channels, 15 weirs, 16 outfalls and 80
storage nodes.

Simulations were carried out for the two historical storms

(19th October 2004 and 22nd July 2006) and for a synthetic
design storm of 10 year return periods with duration of 60 minutes (Synthetic M10-60). The results were compared to assess
whether any of the models (Base and Enhanced) provided a
better or worse representation of the flooding mechanism and
As the models are different and because the overland flow pathways convey the floodwater away from the flooding locations, it
is not appropriate to simply compare flood volumes. Instead, the
total volumes of flow to and from the Street-1 and the Street-3
flooding areas have been extracted from the simulation results and
are summarized in Table 1. The minor flow is through the sewers
and the major flow is along the overland drainage pathways.

Table 1 Simulated flow volumes for storms


Street-1Minor flows in
Street-1Major flows in
Street-1Minor flows out
Street-1Major flows out
Street-3Minor flows in
Street-3Major flows in
Street-3Minor flows out
Street-3Major flows out

19th October 2004

22nd July 2006

Synthetic M10-60

model (m3 )

model (m3 )

model (m3 )

model (m3 )

Basic model (m3 )

model (m3 )

model (m3 )







Downloaded by [] at 05:32 07 September 2012

From these results it appears that overland flows do not play a

large part in the flooding at Street-1, since there are no simulated
overland inflows along the passageway between houses (Fig. 12).
This is due to the fact that pathway in the Enhanced Model has
a higher invert level because the GIS tool picked the level from
LiDAR DEM. It is known that LiDAR DEM at this particular
location has problems, i.e. it does not represent correctly the
heights of the alleyway.
It is clear from the Enhanced Model that overland flows into
the Street-3 flooding area underlines an important aspect in the
flooding mechanism. It may be that this is also the case with the
Simplified Model but in that model the drainage pathway along
Street-2 is routed directly into Street-4, effectively bypassing
Street-3. The relatively high proportion of flow into and out of
Street-3 via overland pathways is particularly well illustrated in
Table 1 (Synthetic M10-60). With more extreme storms than the
10 year return periods used, the minor flows will remain similar
but the major flows will increase significantly and will become a
higher proportion of the total flow.
Another simulation of a more extreme synthetic rainfall of 50
years return periods with durations of 60 minutes was carried out.
Comparison between hydrographs obtained by the Base Model
and Enhanced Model for the pipe just downstream from Street3 is shown in Fig. 13. For the Base Model the hydrograph is for
the sewer flow, since (according to the model concept) there is no
overland flow of flood water and it stays in the upstream cones
as long as the sewer is surcharged. It has quite a long almost flat
peak because of the gradual release of the volumes stored in
the upstream cones.
For the Enhanced Model the flow is presented separately for
the pipe and surface runoff (broken lines in Fig. 13). It can be
seen that the Enhanced Model has identical flows as the Base
Model up to about 30 minutes (free surface flow in sewer network, both models produce identical results). Once the sewer
system is surcharged, the Enhanced Model simulates the overland flow closer to reality. It enables transfer of volumes between
sub-catchments, therefore volumes can differ significantly. In
this case there is more volume for the two graphs of the Enhanced
Model than the single graph of the Base Model. This is because
additional overland flows contribute to this location by flowing
from uphill flooded areas.
Figure 13 clearly presents also the problem of storage cones
concept, as used in the Base Model: since certain volume of
water is stored in artificial cones and returned later through the
sewer network, it will produce a relative large discharge after
the storm (from 00:50 till 01:02). Consequently the Enhanced
Model has a shorter peak because the overland flow channel (in
the road immediately above) is conveying the very high flows of
over 250 l/s.

7 Conclusions
An innovative method for the analysis of the overland flow component during pluvial flooding in urban areas is presented. The
concept is based on the use of Detailed High Resolution DEM

















Rainfall Intensity (mm/hr)

Overland flow and pathway analysis for modelling of urban pluvial flooding

Flow (m3/s)

Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 47, No. 4 (2009)


Time (mins)
Synthetic Rainfall 50yrs/60mins

Enhanced Model (Pipe)

Base Model (Pipe)

Enhanced Model (Overland)

Figure 13 Comparison of hydrographs for Base Model and

Enhanced Model for pipe just downstream from Street-3

that supports creation of the surface runoff pathways network.

The surface network of ponds and preferential paths (along
the streets originating from surcharged manholes or across the
urban catchment from other remote areas) are created by automatic catchment delineation. The methodology for obtaining the
information required for flood simulation such as pond storage
and pathway geometries is also presented and uncertainties are
quantified. The mutual interactions between surface and underground sewer networks are established through inlets or manholes
located on the bottom of ponds and through predefined surface
pathways that can deliver to the sewer network at downstream
inlets. A detailed description of the methodology is presented
and its applications shown using a case study. This is an important breakthrough in the long-awaited solution of urban flood
The work presented herein enables a fully integrated urban
pluvial flood to be modelled by the 1D-1D approach. However,
it should be noted that full success in implementing this concept
depends on the quality of the DEM. Detailed analysis is required
to improve DEM quality in complex urban areas for purposes of
modelling urban flooding. Completion of this tool creates several new opportunities for advanced urban flood management,
including improvements in Real-Time Control, improvement
of links between hydraulic modelling and quick precipitation
forecasting (nowcasting), and development of short term urban
flood forecasting. Future research will include comparisons of
results obtained by the presented methodology and emerging
coupled 1D-2D models. Additionally, it is expected that development of this methodology will shift the overall perception of
urban drainage flooding modelling and will create the need for
upgrading commercial 1D packages.

The present research presented has been carried out under coordination of the first author by the Urban Water Research Group
(UWRG), Environmental and Water Resources Engineering
(EWRE) Section, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London, UK within the Flood Risk
Management Research Consortium (FRMRC) project. Financial


Maksimovic et al.

support of the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research

Council (EPSRC) and other funding organisations is acknowledged. Additionally the support of UK Water Industry Research
(UKWIR) and Environmental Agency in funding the case study
modelling exercise is acknowledged and appreciated. The fourth
author was financially supported by the Portuguese Research
Council Fundao para a Cincia e a Tecnologia (FCT). The
support is highly appreciated. Authors also acknowledge contributions to discussions of the case study by Mr Oluseyi Adeyemo.


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A = Flow cross-sectional area

B = Width of trapezoidal channel
H = Flow depth
m = Side slope (H:V) of trapezoidal channel
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