Environmental Management

, Volume 63, Issue 6, pp 747–758 | Cite as

Developing Cost-Effective Design Guidelines for Fish-Friendly Box Culverts, with a Focus on Small Fish

  • Xinqian Leng
  • Hubert ChansonEmail author
  • Matthews Gordos
  • Marcus Riches


Low-level river crossings can have negative impacts on freshwater ecosystems, including blocking upstream fish passage. In order to restore upstream fish passage in culverts, we developed physically-based design methods to yield cost-effective culvert structures in order to maintain or restore waterway connectivity for a range of small-bodied fish species. New guidelines are proposed for fish-friendly multi-cell box culvert designs based upon two basic concepts: (1) the culvert design is optimised for fish passage for small to medium water discharges, and for flood capacity for larger discharges, and (2) low-velocity zones in the culvert barrel are defined in terms of a percentage of the wetted flow area where the local longitudinal velocity component is less than a characteristic fish speed linked to swimming performances of targeted fish species. This approach is novel and relies upon an accurate physically-based knowledge of the entire velocity field in the barrel, specifically the longitudinal velocity map, because fish tend to target low-velocity zone (LVZ) boundaries. The influence of the relative discharge threshold Q1/Qdes, characteristic fish swimming speed Ufish, and percentage of flow area on the size of box culvert structures was assessed. The results showed that the increase in culvert size and cost might become significant for a smooth culvert barrel with Ufish < 0.3 m/s and Q1/Qdes > 0.3, when providing 15% flow area with 0 < Vx < Ufish. Similar trends were seen for culvert barrel with recessed cell(s).


Box culverts Upstream fish passage Design guidelines Low velocity zones 



The authors thank Professor Colin J. APELT (The University of Queensland, Australia), Dr Gangfu ZHANG (WSP Brisbane, Australia), and Professor Daniel BUNG (FH Aachen University of Applied Science, Germany) for valuable comments. Further comments from discussions with a number of professional engineers and biologists were considered.


The financial support of Australian Research Council (Grant LP140100225) is acknowledged.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

267_2019_1167_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (191 kb)
Supplementary information


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Civil EngineeringThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.New South Wales Department of Primary IndustriesWollongbarAustralia

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