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.
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.
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.
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.