Office of Surface Water Information -- Publications In Reply Refer To:
Mail Stop 415

June 2, 1999

Office of Surface Water Technical Memorandum No. 99.05

Subject: Development of New Standard Rating Tables for the Price Type AA and Pygmy Current Meters

This memorandum is to inform you of the development of new standard rating tables for the Price type AA and pygmy current meters. Copies of the new rating tables are attached. The Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility (HIF) plans to make laminated copies available. The HIF is also preparing to make available or install, new chips for the USGS current-meter digitizers (CMD's) that will contain the algorithm for the new rating tables. These tables should be placed in use immediately for AA and pygmy meters with cat-whisker contact chambers and for AA meters with magnetic heads.

Since 1988 surface-water technical reviewers have selected two current meters, one of each type, from the district being reviewed for calibration testing in the Office of Surface Water (OSW) Hydraulic Laboratory. Results from this Meter-Exchange Program have shown that changes from the standard ratings have occurred since the original standard rating tables for AA and pygmy meters were released in about 1970 and 1980, respectively. This conclusion is based on the calibration testing of the meters after they were disassembled, inspected, repaired, and adjusted by laboratory personnel.

Data from acceptance testing of HIF procurements of current meters and bucket wheels also show that changes from the standard rating tables have occurred. AA meters tend to run more slowly than predicted by the standard rating, and pygmy meters run too fast. Representative data from the Meter-Exchange Program and the procurement testing, weighted to reflect the estimated current composition of the populations of AA and pygmy meters, were used to develop the new rating tables.

At a velocity of 1.5 feet per second (fps) the new AA-meter standard rating equation gives a result that is 0.74 percent more than given by the old standard rating and at 8 fps, 1.4 percent more, compensating for the AA meter turning more slowly than predicted by the old standard rating.

The Meter-Exchange Program and procurement-testing data for pygmy meters show that these meters tend to run faster than predicted by the standard rating table. For the average pygmy meter, a correction is needed of 1.2 percent less at 0.75 fps, ranging to 1.6 percent less at 3.0 fps.

A valid question is whether changes from the standard ratings averaging between 1 and 2 percent are worth the trouble of making the change. A good discharge measurement is only supposed to be within plus or minus 5 percent. Other errors associated with making discharge measurements are generally of about the same magnitude or larger than these current-meter rating errors; however there is a difference. The other errors are thought to be random in nature. Random errors over time will "average out", having little effect on the stage-discharge relationship and leaving the stage-discharge relation as an unbiased estimator. The average error of a group of meters relative to the standard rating table is a systematic error, which will not "average out". This average meter error will cause the stage-discharge relationships to be in error a like amount.

Using the new rating tables, a reanalysis of 2 years' record at three gaging stations in West Virginia shows an increase in annual average discharge of 1.2 percent for a large stream, 1.0 percent for a medium-sized stream, and 0.6 percent for a small stream. The increase in daily-maximum discharges for these gages during the 2-year period ranged from 1.1 to 1.3 percent. Minimum-daily discharges ranged from a decrease of -0.8 percent to an increase of 0.5 percent. Changes in monthly-average discharges ranged from -1.5 percent for the smallest stream to 1.3 percent for the largest. None of the errors meet our customary criteria for publishing revisions and no revisions are planned.

In addition to the new standard ratings, the OSW recommends the following measures to reduce potential bias in streamflow records, resulting from current-meter error:

The division has accepted the bulleted recommendations above and development of new standard ratings as an interim course of action. A reassessment is planned in 2 years to see if further actions are necessary. A major factor in accepting this course of action, as opposed to going back to individual current meter ratings, is preserving the ability to make a major repair to a current meter without having it recalibrated.

Two sources of error may be considered in using current meters to measure velocity. There is error associated with the average performance of a group of current meters being different from the standard rating. The new standard rating tables will correct this error. There is also the variability of individual meters within the group. For the representative samples from which the new rating tables were prepared, there is considerable variation among individual meters. About 95 percent of the AA meters fall within 1.5 percent of the new standard rating. For pygmy meters this variability is about 2 percent.

For some applications districts may wish to avoid this additional uncertainty in meter performance. They can obtain individually rated new meters by special request from the HIF. The districts may also have meters belonging to them individually rated at the Hydraulic Laboratory. The additional expense of individual ratings, either from the HIF or the Hydraulic Laboratory, are currently $250 for a AA meter and $125 for a pygmy meter, which are the costs of calibration. A plan for modernization is being implemented in the laboratory, which may materially reduce these costs.

Individually rated new meters are usually available from stock at the HIF. The time needed to have a meter individually rated at the laboratory depends on work load at the time and is scheduled on an first-come-first-served basis. With advance notice, a meter can be calibrated within 2 weeks of being received in the laboratory.

Thomas H. Yorke
Chief, Office of Surface Water

Distribution: A, B, FO, PO

Standard Rating Table No. 2 for AA Current Meters
Standard Rating Table No. 2 for Pygmy Current Meters

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