Levee systems are part of our nation’s landscape and important to communities because of the benefits they provide. For example, more than 13 million people live or work behind levees in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Levee Safety Program. And, public and private property worth more than $1 trillion are behind these levees.
Through the Levee Safety Program, USACE partners with levee sponsors to manage flood risk to people, businesses, critical infrastructure and the environment.
The North Atlantic Division (NAD) is responsible for working with levee sponsors to manage more than 200 levee systems. The NAD Regional Levee Safety Program works with USACE Districts and levee sponsors to understand the benefits and risks associated with levees, build awareness among the public, fulfill daily responsibilities on levees, and take actions to manage the future performance of levees.
Responsibilities for Levee Systems
There are more than 7,000 levee systems across the the country, 1,600 of which are federally authorized and part of the USACE Levee Safety Program. Federally-authorized levees are those that have been authorized by Congress. Some are operated and maintained by USACE, while others are operated and maintained by a local public sponsor through a project agreement with USACE. In addition, if the levee systems meet certain criteria, USACE can support local public sponsors of non-Federal levee systems through the Public Law (PL) 84-99 Rehabilitation Program.
The NAD levee system portfolio currently includes:
• 25 Federally-authorized levee systems that operated and maintained by USACE.
• 155 Federally-authorized levee systems that were constructed by USACE and then turned over to a local public sponsor for operations and maintenance.
• 27 non-Federal levee systems that meet the PL 84-99 Rehabilitation Program criteria.
Levee Safety Activities
Levees are an essential tool communities and businesses rely on to keep floodwaters away from the things they value. But levees do not eliminate flood risks. Levee inspections and risk assessments are two key activities USACE and levee sponsors complete to understand potential hazards a levee may face, the condition and anticipated performance of levees, and who/what benefits from the levee or may be impacted if flooding occurs. This information informs recommended actions on the levee and is shared with others to support protective actions.
Inspections and Site Visits
USACE inspects Federally-authorized levees at least once every five years under the Inspection of Completed Works (ICW) Program. Information collected during an inspection helps USACE and levee sponsors understand the condition of the levee and prioritize maintenance activities. Information about a levee’s condition captured during an inspection is used during USACE risk assessments.
Site visits are a collaborative activity to observe or verify any changed conditions, provide technical advice and respond to sponsor’s questions, or capture progress of levee management measures for consideration in the next inspection or risk assessment. Site visits are completed as needed.
The NAD Regional Levee Safety Program Manager (LSPM) provides technical guidance to the Districts and oversees inspection performance.
Risk assessments examine the hazards a levee may face, the condition of the levee and anticipated performance, and who and what benefit from and may flood if an issue occurs with the levee. This information can be used to develop a strategy for levee operation, maintenance, repair, replacement, and rehabilitation unique to each levee.
There are two types of risk assessments:
- Screening: uses currently available information to inform its findings, considers a suite of standard potential failure modes, and results in a rough estimate of risk.
- More-Detailed Risk Assessment: tailored to specific questions of uncertainty in understanding the risk associated with a particular levee system and typically involves gathering new information, exploring more specific potential failure modes, and providing more refined numerical probabilities, resulting in a more accurate risk estimate.
District personnel work with levee sponsors to reassess risk after each inspection, as well as to identify needs to complete a risk assessment sooner than scheduled, including after a flood event if the levee system is damaged. The NAD Regional LSPM tracks and reviews all varieties of risk assessments.
Did you know?
More detailed risk assessments can be requested. For example, a USACE risk assessment may be used to fulfill the levee performance and design requirements for a levee accreditation decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Contact the NAD Levee Safety Program managers at DLL-NADLeveeSafety@usace.army.mil
for more information.
Sharing Levee Information
District personnel communicate benefits and risks of levee systems to sponsors and stakeholders using formal and informal means. At NAD, the Regional LSPM and the Public Affairs Office help District personnel when performing formal communication activities.
Interaction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
USACE’s primary interaction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency is under its National Flood Insurance Program. USACE and FEMA share information about levee systems, and work together with sponsors, stakeholders and communities. Coordination with FEMA Regional offices is primarily performed at the District level. NAD’s District boundaries overlap with FEMA’s state-based Regions 1, 2, and 3.
National Levee Database
The National Levee Database (NLD) is the repository for information about all types of levee systems in the nation. Information in the NLD includes: levee system description; risk characterization; PL 84-99 Rehabilitation Program eligibility status; construction authorization; operation and maintenance (O&M) responsibility; FEMA NFIP status; and much more. In addition, USACE uses a computerized Levee Inspection System (LIS), which is directly synchronized with the National Levee Database (NLD) to import inspection data. The NAD Regional LSPM assists District LSPMs with quality assurance of the data in the NLD.
Emergency Management and Emergency Operations
Emergency management and emergency operations activities frequently involve levees. At NAD, the Readiness and Contingency Operations (RCO) PL 84-99 Manager oversees the Public Law (PL) 84-99 Rehabilitation Program with assistance from the Regional LSPM. In addition, District personnel monitor and assess levees during and after high-water events and advise sponsors on emergency operations tasks such as sandbag barrier construction or innovative barrier construction. At NAD, the Regional LSPM supports RCO personnel for training events, exercises, and real-world high-water events.
Did you know?
Levees (Federal and non-Federal) that meet specific criteria are eligible through the PL 84-99 Rehabilitation Program for Federally-funded levee repairs after a flood event. USACE determines if a levee is eligible for the PL 84-99 Rehabilitation Program using a subset of the items evaluated during a Levee Safety Program inspection. These items must receive acceptable or minimally acceptable ratings for the levee to be eligible for the PL 84-99 Rehabilitation Program. More information is available at: https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p16021coll11/id/4638.
System-Wide Improvement Framework Program
Sponsors of Federal and non-Federal levee systems that are “Inactive” in the PL 84-99 Rehabilitation Program (i.e., no longer eligible), but demonstrate their intent to regain eligibility, can apply for the System Wide Improvement Framework (SWIF) Program. A SWIF is a plan developed by the levee sponsor(s) and accepted by USACE to implement system-wide improvements in a prioritized way to optimize flood risk reduction. When applying, the sponsor will state its intent for attending to deficiencies, interim risk reduction measures to be implemented, and capability to acquire funding. If approved by USACE, and as long as the SWIF milestones are met, the levee system will have its PL 84-99 Rehabilitation Program eligibility restored. District emergency management personnel manage the SWIF Program with support from the District LSPM. At NAD, RCO personnel and the Regional LSPM track and review District SWIF requests.
Modifications to Federal Levee Systems
Alterations to Federal levee systems must be requested under 33 United States Code 408 (“Section 408”). USACE Districts administer this process under the guidance of Engineer Circular 1165-2-220. Proposed alterations must not be injurious to the public interest or impair the usefulness of the Federal levee system. At NAD, the Regional Section 408 Manager in Operations Division and the Regional LSPM track and review District Section 408 requests.
Silver Jackets teams are state-based teams that bring together multiple State, Federal, and sometimes tribal and local agencies to learn from one another with the intent of reducing flood risk or risk from other natural disasters. By applying their shared knowledge, the teams mitigate risk prior to the occurrence of adverse events as well as enhance response and recovery efforts when such events do occur. The NAD Regional LSPM participates in some Silver Jackets meetings and activities.
National Levee Safety Program Initiative
Congress has authorized development of a National Levee Safety Program, a new initiative being co-led by USACE and FEMA. The goal of this program is to facilitate the development of an integrated framework for managing reliable levee systems to reduce risk to people and property damage from floods throughout the Nation.