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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bay Model Visitor Center
USCAE Bay Model - San Francisco Bay Detail.jpg
View of the San Francisco Bay portion of the Bay Model.
Location within San Francisco Bay Area
Established 1957 (1957)
Location 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito, California
Coordinates 37°51′48.61″N 122°29′41.75″W / 37.8635028°N 122.4949306°W / 37.8635028; -122.4949306
Key holdings Hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta
Owner US Army Corps of Engineers, San Francisco District
Public transit access Golden Gate Transit, bus routes 2, 4, 30, or 92; or Golden Gate Ferry from San Francisco
Website Official website

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model is a working hydraulic scale model of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta System. While the Bay Model is still operational, it is no longer used for scientific research but is instead open to the public alongside educational exhibits about Bay hydrology. The model is located in the Bay Model Visitor Center at 2100 Bridgeway Blvd. in Sausalito, California.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Stopping a Disastrous Plan with Science: the Bay Model
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model | Anything Interesting Ep. 5
  • Bay Model Visitor Center grand reopening


These days if you want to simulate something in the physical world you use a computer. But what if you couldn't? What if it was, say, the 1950s and you needed to work out if a bold but questionable plan to dam the San Francisco Bay was a good idea? The answer is this: The US Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model. The Bay Model is one and a half acres or more. What you're looking at is one of our former scientific, hydrodynamic, engineering testing facilities. And this was the tool, the instrument, that they used to see what the unforeseen consequences of the John Reber Plan was going to be. In the 1940s and 50s a man named John Reber had a plan to completely change the San Francisco Bay. Enormous dams would create freshwater lakes. There'd be brand-new reclaimed land for industry and for air and naval bases. Reber said it would make the bay a defensible military fortification, move people safely inland and the newly dammed rivers would provide huge amounts of drinking water. Reber was not a professional engineer. He was a theatrical producer who had done a lot of research, but because he worked in showbiz, he knew how to promote something. And by most accounts he was a friendly, sincere, convincing man. So unlike other ideas for giant engineering projects, the Reber Plan actually caught on. Debate went back and forth for years but eventually Reber's plan seemed realistic enough, at least to politicians, that the US Army Corps of Engineers were tasked to see if it was practical and they were given $2.5m, that's about $25m today, to find out. And with it, they built this. This model when it was built was the next level, the next generation. It was extremely accurate as an instrument. At the time there really wasn't anything better. There's 250,000 strategically placed little copper tabs in the bottom of the model to keep the saltwater and the freshwater from going in and out too quickly, but also to duplicate any little protrusions sticking up out of the bottom of the bay. The model is 1:1000 scale horizontally, 1:100 scale vertically and 1:100 scale in time. That means about two hundred times a day, the tide comes in and the tide goes out, because San Francisco Bay has tides and therefore, so does the model. Everything was hand operated for the first thirty years. It took probably anywhere between twelve and fifteen people to operate it, sometimes it was as many as sixty people here at one time working on various different experiments and everybody had to be totally in sync. It was like an orchestra. And the interns were out there in chairs, in lab coats, in the water measuring the various different ebb and flow of the tide. It took three years for Reber's plan to be tested here and in that time Reber passed away. And for his supporters, the results from the model were devastating. It looked great on paper, convinced a lot of people, but when it was tested they found that it was only good on paper. The end result was it failed on ninety-nine different accounts. Wild and unpredictable catastrophic flooding was just one of them. The dams wouldn't create lakes, they'd create evaporation ponds. The tide would create dangerous currents and waves. In short, not only would the Reber Plan have been a disaster, it would have been a billion dollar disaster. The ecosystem would have been devastated too, but it was the 50s, so no-one was really thinking about that. The Corps of Engineers, their job done, figured the model would come in useful again someday. And it did, helping to test smaller and more practical schemes across the bay for decades. These days, of course, computers can do all of that for a fraction of the time and the money, but it's still a good educational resource. Last time I talked about a grand civil engineering scheme like this, about Herman Sörgel's Atlantropa, I said it was a testament to how big we can dream, but this model is a testament to something else. To science. To having a hypothesis. To testing it. And then, when it fails, admitting that it's wrong. There shouldn't be any shame in that. Sometimes we follow bad ideas, and changing your mind based on new evidence and allowing others to do the same is something our world should be built on, and it's exactly what this model made happen.



In the late 1940s, John Reber proposed to build two large dams in the San Francisco Bay as a way to provide a more reliable freshwater supply to residents and farms and to connect local communities. In 1953, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a detailed study of the so-called Reber Plan. Cornelius Biemond proposed a similar plan which would dam the Sacramento River in the delta region to feed aqueducts with freshwater. Authorized by Section 110 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1950, construction of the Bay Model was completed in 1957 to study the plans.[1][2] The tests proved that the plan was not viable, and the Reber Plan was scuttled.[3]

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta portion was added to the model in 1966-1969 to provide information for studies concerning impacts of the deepening of navigation channels, realignment of Delta channels (via the Peripheral Canal), and various flow arrangements on water quality. When completed, the expanded model covered 2 acres (0.81 ha) of land.[4]

Size and scope

The model is approximately 320 feet long in the north-south direction and about 400 feet long in the east-west direction. It is constructed out of 286 five-ton concrete slabs joined together like a jigsaw puzzle. Features that affect the water flow of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are reproduced, including ship channels, rivers, creeks, sloughs, the canals in the Delta, fills, major wharfs, piers, slips, dikes, bridges, and breakwaters.[5]

The limits of the model encompass the Pacific Ocean extending 17 miles beyond the Golden Gate, San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, Suisun Bay and all of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Verona, 17 miles north of Sacramento on the north, and to Vernalis, 32 miles south of Stockton on the San Joaquin River on the south.[5]

panorama of the Bay Model focused on the area of the model representing the San Pablo Bay.


The scale of the model is 1:1000 on the horizontal axes and 1:100 on the vertical axis. The model operates at a time scale of 1:100.[6]

The model is distorted by a factor of ten between the horizontal and vertical scales. The distortion is designed into the model to ensure a proper hydraulic flow over the tidal flats and shallows. The distortion does increase the hydraulic efficiency of the flows. These increased efficiencies are corrected by the use of copper strips throughout the model. The exact number of copper strips is adjusted during the calibration of the model.[6]


  1. ^ Hunt, Mary Ellen (July 18, 2012). "San Francisco Bay Model, Sausalito". Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  2. ^ "Model Bay Is Studied". Reading Eagle. U.P. 14 July 1957. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  3. ^ Jordan, Dick (August 2, 2009). "Water Lab Lets Visitors Peek Beneath the Bay". Bay Area Newsgroup. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  4. ^ "Bay Model's Dedication Scheduled For Saturday". Lodi News-Sentinel. 12 June 1969. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b "HIstory of the Bay Model". US Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  6. ^ a b "The Technical Side of the Bay Model". US Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved 18 August 2016.

External links

This page was last edited on 22 August 2018, at 16:05
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