D

Levees

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Overview

A nationwide network of 30,000 documented miles of levees protects communities, critical infrastructure, and valuable property, with levees in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Levee Safety Program protecting over 300 colleges and universities, 30 professional sports venues, 100 breweries, and an estimated $1.3 trillion in property. As development continues to encroach in floodplains along rivers and coastal areas, an estimated $80 billion is needed in the next 10 years to maintain and improve the nation’s system of levees. In 2014 Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which expanded the levee safety program nationwide, but the program has not yet received any funding.

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Conditions & Capacity

Levees are usually earthen embankments or concrete floodwalls, which have been designed and constructed to contain, control, or divert the flow of water to reduce the risk of temporary flooding. Vertical concrete floodwalls may be erected in urban areas where there is insufficient land for an earthen levee.

Conditions & Capacity

Funding & Investment

It is estimated that $80 billion is needed in the next 10 years to maintain and improve the nation’s levees. Federal funding is available only for USACE-owned levees. More than half of levees are owned by states and localities, which often have limited budgets for repairs and maintenance.

Funding & Investment
$80 Billion
Investment Needed
$10 Billion
Funding Provided
Levees Funding

Public Safety, Resilience, & Innovation

Levees play a critical role in protecting many American communities and their economies at risk of dangerous flooding. Those in the USACE Levee Safety Program protect over 300 universities, 30 professional sports venues, 100 breweries, and an estimated $1.3 trillion in property. During floods in the summer of 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that levees in the south, central, and southwestern United States prevented more than $13.1 billion in damage. Along the Mississippi River decades of levee upgrades have prevented $306 billion in flood damage prevention, equating to a 24-to-1 return on investment of that infrastructure. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which encourages flood risk mitigation activities and requires at-risk homeowners to purchase insurance, saves the national economy $1.7 billion in avoided losses due to flooding.

Public Safety, Resilience, & Innovation

Raising the Grades

Solutions that Work Now
  • Fully fund the National Levee Safety Program passed in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.
  • Complete the National Levee Inventory for both federal and nonfederal levees.
  • Adopt a levee hazard potential classification system.
  • Complete levee mapping as outlined in the National Flood Insurance Program reform bill and implement FEMA’s new levee mapping and analysis program.
  • Increase funding at all levels of government and leverage private funds to address structural and nonstructural solutions that reduce risk to people and property.
  • Require insurance where appropriate, and create emergency action plans for levee-protected areas.
  • Ensure that operation and maintenance plans cover all aspects of a complex levee system.
  • Assess levees using updated hydrology and hydraulic analyses that incorporate the impact of urbanization and climate change, particularly for coastal levees.
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