By James LoweMarch 2, 2018
Important to communities because of the benefits they provide, levee systems are part of our nation's landscape. For example, more than ten million people live or work behind levees in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Levee Safety Program. Located behind these levees nationwide are more than one trillion dollars of public and private property.
Levees do not eliminate flooding but these 14,100 miles of levees reduce flood risk to people, businesses, critical infrastructure and the environment.
Additionally, levee conditions, storm/flood intensity and frequency, and populations around these levees change. So, the USACE Levee Safety Program works with local levee sponsors and stakeholders to make sure these levees provide their intended benefits. Working together to assess, manage and communicate flood risks to residents and businesses is our priority. More than anything, life safety is paramount.
In the Kansas City District, Geoffrey Henggeler serves as our levee safety program manager. "Levee safety is a shared responsibility. No single entity has all of the tools or resources to deal with levee and flood risk management issues. It takes a team effort between the levee owner, the Corps of Engineers and other stakeholders, including emergency management officials, local community leaders, and other local, state and federal agencies," said Henggeler.
Steve Fulk, manager of Missouri River Levee System - Levee 408 referenced Kansas City District assistance in keeping their 50-year-old levee viable, "Our levee was constructed in 1969 and protects about 10,000 acres of Missouri River bottom farm ground as well as the lower part of the town of Farley and the largest part of the community of Beverly in Platte County, Missouri." With 50 houses in the area, the area has not flooded even in 1993, said Fulk.
This "can only happen with qualified assistance that the USACE brings to the table. As a levee sponsor, we totally depend on their knowledge and expertise to guide us through the maintenance and upkeep that is necessary for a levee to perform when it is put to the test. I think we can all agree that the flood event of 2011 enhanced the effort to look harder than in the past at areas that needed attention and our District appreciates the scrutiny that has been involved through Periodic Inspections and pipe inspections as an example," said Fulk. He acknowledged the levee district's responsibility to actively monitor the condition of the levee and that the whole process is a team effort.
Fulk commended the Corps for being with them in the crisis of 2011. "We experienced sand boils for the first time at a level that could have been detrimental to the levees stability. They were on sight with us constantly that year to monitor our efforts to control these locations. One of the areas that developed sand boils that year was actually spotted from a Corps helicopter on a river run, which was then communicated to us, allowing us to respond accordingly."
Of the Kansas City District, Fulk said, "They have proven to be people with integrity and we will always strive to reciprocate."
"The Corps has been and continues to be helpful to the local Kansas City metropolitan levee sponsors," said Stephen Dailey, general manager, Fairfax Drainage District, located in the Kansas City metro area. "First of all, they conduct annual (and periodic) levee inspections that helps us prioritize and address areas along the levee that may need attention," said Dailey, who added that the levee districts bring value to the Corps by sharing information to help verify maintenance objectives and collaborate on many issues of concern.
Not everyone knows that USACE and FEMA have different roles and responsibilities related to levees. FEMA addresses mapping and floodplain management issues related to levees, and accredits levees as meeting requirements set forth by the National Flood Insurance Program. USACE addresses a range of operational and maintenance issues, risk communication, risk management, and risk reduction issues as part of its responsibilities under the Levee Safety Program.
Depending on the levee system, FEMA and USACE may be involved with the levee sponsor and community independently or -- when a levee system overlaps both agency programs -- jointly. Under both scenarios the long term goals are similar: to reduce risk and lessen the devastating consequences of flooding.
Levee Myths and Facts
MYTH - If I need to know something about the levees in my community, someone will tell me.
FACT - Many communities have great outreach programs, but people who work or live behind levees also have a personal responsibility for their own safety. Want to learn more about levees in your community? Speaking to community officials is a good place to start. Also, there may be information in the National Levee Database. Enter your zip code to learn about nearby levees and leveed areas, and se Stephen Dailey, general manager, Fairfax Drainage District e summary ratings for the levees that USACE inspects.
MYTH - As long as I live behind a levee, my community will always be safe from flooding.
FACT - Levee safety is a component of a broader flood risk management approach. Levees may reduce flood risk, but they don't eliminate it. The Levee Safety Program assesses and communicates risk to encourage better informed decisions about the best flood risk reduction measures by individuals, businesses, levee sponsors, other responsible agencies, and USACE itself. For example, USACE can help reduce flood risk by building levees in partnership with a local community, whereas in a coordinated but independent action, local government can further reduce flood risk by implementing flood plain management actions such as evacuation plans, zoning ordinances, building codes and public outreach.
MYTH - I'm not in the "100-year" flood zone, so I'm not at risk.
FACT - Risk doesn't stop at a line on a map. For flood insurance purposes flood maps show the elevation reached by a flood with a one percent annual chance of occurring, also known as a 100-year flood. This is not the same as flood "risk", which also takes into account how the levee will perform as well as what could happen if it doesn't perform. For this reason, USACE recommends flood insurance for everyone in a leveed area.
MYTH - USACE oversees and manages all levees.
FACT - The levees included in the USACE Levee Safety Program, otherwise referred to as the USACE levee portfolio or USACE program levees, account for only about 10 percent of the nation's levees (as estimated by the National Committee on Levee Safety). However, with almost 10 million people living or working behind USACE program levees, USACE considers the role it has in assessing and communicating risks a top priority.