The National Levee Rehabilitation, Improvement, and Flood Mitigation Fund
The Current Situation
We are at a critical juncture in our nation's history — risks of loss of life, property damage, and damage to our
natural environment behind levees are increasing. Levees across the nation often have been central tools in
flood risk management, reducing the effects of floods on people, property, and the environment. The
infrastructure that we depend on, including schools, roads, hospitals, water supply and wastewater facilities,
and power generating facilitates, also depends on levees.
Even though levees were originally constructed to protect property, often they have inadvertently increased
flood risks by attracting greater development to the floodplain. In fact, many levees built to protect
agricultural fields now protect large urban communities. The consequences of levee failure in these
communities can be devastating.
But we as a nation have failed to pay attention to this essential piece of our infrastructure. The average age of
levees within federal levee safety programs is approximately 50 years, and the age of many nonfederal levees
can be much olderâ€”100 years or more. Levee infrastructure has the best practice (engineering codes)
physically embedded in them at the time of construction, and in a sense, they become museums of the best
practices of the past. In many instances, advancements in the state of the art for engineering and science have
been considerable, leaving many levees with features that have serious design, construction, and operational
inadequacies. The costs to rehabilitate these levees to the current state of the practice will be enormous.
The National Levee Rehabilitation, Improvement & Flood Mitigation Fund
The NCLS has recommended an inventory and inspection of all the nation's levees to better identify the most
critical levee safety issues, quantify the nation's risk exposure, and focus priorities for future funding
(Recommendation 2). This inventory will likely enhance the recognition and realization of the deteriorating
condition of many of the nation's levee structures and of the lack of a focused public policy to address the
problem. Federal, state, and local levee owners will then need a funding source to assist with rehabilitating our
aging and deteriorating levee infrastructure. Furthermore, even well constructed and maintained levees may
not provide an appropriate level of protection for the people and property that now lie in the leveed area.
Today, many levee owners find it difficult to fund necessary levee rehabilitation and improvement work. Often,
vital repairs are neglected, and these levees are subject to further deterioration due to lack of funds and neglect.
Deterioration can lead to levee failure and great destruction and loss of life. The challenge at federal, state, and
local levels continues to be securing adequate funding countrywide for levee rehabilitation.
While the leadership and technical standards of the National Levee Safety Program will contribute to reducing
the risk to life and property and help improve the safety of our nation's levees, the safety of levees demands
much more attention from national policymakers. Funding to address the many levee deficiencies that are
expected to be discovered and documented is a critical aspect of the National Levee Safety Program, as
proposed by the NCLS.
The NCLS has recommended that Congress authorize and
fund a National Levee Rehabilitation, Improvement, and
Flood Mitigation Fund for publicly-owned levees that are not
federally operated and maintained (Recommendation 15).
To promote the smartest, most cost-effective risk reduction
measures, the fund would be available to rehabilitate,
improve, remove, or replace levees (structural measures) as
well as conduct nonstructural measures, so long as the
combination of measures maximizes overall risk reduction.
For example, in some communities, the greatest risk
reduction may be achieved by removing the levee altogether
and focusing on increasing land available for water conveyance and flood storage. The NCLS has recommended
that the fund be cost-shared, with a 65% contribution of federal dollars and 35% matched by state and local
dollars. It is also recommended that part of the nonfederal cost share could be met by implementation of
nonstructural measures (e.g. buyouts, flood proofing, etc.).
Proposed Eligibility and Priority of Fund
Because the intent is to address the areas that pose the greatest risk, the NCLS recommends that the fund
initially be limited to only levee systems that protect existing urban areas that have a high damage potential
based on a screening-level risk assessment. This risk assessment will be derived from inventory, inspection, and
past performance data housed in the National Levee Database (Recommendation 2). Recognizing the important
role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in working with communities following a federally
declared disaster, individual projects would only be eligible for funding pre-disaster. The fund would not replace
or be a substitute for FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
The NCLS envisions that eligibility for the National Levee Rehabilitation, Improvement & Flood Mitigation Fund
would have several requirements to assure that levee owners/operators maintain a high level of maintenance
and engage in responsible activities related to the public protected by those levees.
To be eligible to receive federal assistance under the fund, the NCLS recommends that a grant applicant must:
- Provide the minimum data to populate the National Levee Database.
- Demonstrate the financial means to provide their cost share contribution for the initial rehabilitation
and the financial assistance to operate and maintain the levee system in accordance with the National
Levee Safety Code.
- Evaluate an array of nonstructural alternatives/activities, and where applicable identify a
nonstructural/structural blend of flood risk management approaches, and demonstrate that the
appropriate combination of measures is being implemented to best reduce flood risk.
- Engage in public outreach/notification.
- Provide buyer notification of flood risk.
- Promote purchase of flood insurance.
- Develop an emergency preparedness and response plan.
- Develop and implement an Inspection of Completed Works program.
- Provide a flood risk management plan as part of a public safety element of a general/master land use
plan that demonstrates the local community plan to manage land use over time to move substantially
towards the established national tolerable risk guidelines.
- Participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or be located entirely within one or more
participating communities. Although the 1%-annual-chance (100-year) flood insurance standard
required by the NFIP does not embody a levee safety standard for protection of life and property,
participation in the NFIP demonstrates the community's commitment to review development and
enforce at least the minimum standards of the NFIP to minimize harm in and around its floodplains,
including areas of residual risk associated with levees.
To better understand the integrity of our levees and to prioritize funding, it may be necessary to do more
extensive evaluations beyond routine inspections and preliminary studies. Some portion of early funding may
be needed to assist states and local interests in conducting levee evaluations that will help inform the condition
of levee systems and further facilitate prioritizing funding.
Levee Safety and Federal Leadership
Two key questions are:
- Will the federal government find a way to assist levee owners or will future catastrophic levee failures
with resulting property damage and loss of life continue to occur?
- Will the nation learn from the recent experiences of Hurricane Katrina and other significant flooding
disasters that it is far better to invest in levee rehabilitation, improvement and flood mitigation rather
than disaster relief and recovery (i.e., pay me now or pay me more later)?
It is a reasonable expectation of every US resident to be protected from foreseeable disasters such as levee
failures. There is a critical need to create a federally administered levee rehabilitation, improvement and flood
mitigation fund in order to repair our nation's unsafe levees. Additionally, paralleling such a federal initiative
should be similar efforts for state and local governments to create their own loan or grant programs for levee
rehabilitation. There is a great need to begin an assistance program at both federal and state levels to help
levee owners with their rehabilitation efforts. This is a public safety issue.
Printer Friendly PDF Version (pdf, 368 KB)
Updated February 2011