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Is your levee at risk? 3 ways to keep your community safe

June 20, 2016

By Will Zung

FEMA may come knocking under levee regulations asking for your certification. We’ve got some tips to help you prepare.

The nation’s estimated ­30,000 miles of levees can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia1. Many of these levees were originally used to protect farmland, but now are increasingly used to protect developed communities. In today’s world, we’re all about promoting the resiliency of our infrastructure. We want to make sure our infrastructure is not only protecting our communities, but it is doing so safely. The reliability of these levees is unknown in many cases. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Army Corp of Engineers are working towards establishing the Levee Safety Initiative ensuring that flood risk associated with levees are well known to those citizens living behind them.

We’ve been working with FEMA on their Risk MAP program, which brings forward risk awareness surrounding levees, and allows us to engage communities in preparing for and mitigating the risks associated with them. If your city has a levee, chances are FEMA will, eventually, ask you for certification verifying the levee meets federal regulations. What is this, you ask? Well, the certification is of levee-related data that complies with the structural requirements described in the code of federal regulations 44CFR part 65.10. This certification of data is by a registered professional engineer. To be clear, the certification does not constitute a warranty or guarantee of performance the levee will hold. Rather it is a statement the data is accurate to the best of the certifier’s knowledge. Once certification is received, then FEMA can accredit the levee on the flood insurance rate maps.

But, how can you prepare now for when FEMA comes knocking? Easy. I’ve got a few suggestions that you can do now that will put you in a great position to achieve accreditation and help ensure your levee is protecting citizens.

  1. Start with the basics. Let’s start at the very beginning and determine what type of levee you have, and the best way to do this is to look at your “as built” drawings and your design documents. These will tell you all you need to know about your levee’s specific infrastructure.
  2. Document. Document. Document. Not only should you have a copy of your as-built documents, you should have the operations plan and maintenance plan. A well maintained levee system that operates appropriately will reduce the risk of flooding. Also perform routine and periodic inspections to learn of potential deficiencies which you can plan to fix.
  3. Size matters. You should find out how high your levee is compared to the 1% annual chance exceedance flood elevation (BFE). That will tell you if you have the appropriate amount of freeboard to comply with FEMA’s requirements. In general, the requirement is 3 feet above the BFE but there are circumstances near bridges where you will need up to 4 feet. If you are not sure, you can ask me.

Our team is working to help clients know their own risk and assess the true hazards and how they could impact the surrounding community. It’s imperative that you get an assessment of your risk mitigation now, so you can analyze what items you have, and how they comply with federal regulations. Don’t forget, your levee system is a piece of your community’s infrastructure, and that infrastructure matters!

  • Will Zung

    Will is a water resources engineering program manager, as well as a hazard mitigation program manager.

    Contact Will
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