Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on November 28, 2022
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on June 9, 2023
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2023
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE):
- Supports full funding for the National Levee Safety Program established in Title IX of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, as amended, and codified in 33 USC Chapter 46.
- Supports increased funding at all levels of government and leveraging private funds to address structural and nonstructural solutions that reduce flood risk behind levees.
- Supports the enactment of federal and state legislation and regulations to protect the health and welfare of citizens from the catastrophic effects of levee failures.
- Encourages state governments to enact legislation authorizing appropriate entities to undertake a program of levee safety for non-federal levees.
- Encourages the inclusion of requirements for mandatory safety inspections and public evacuation plans in federal and state levee safety programs.
- Encourages FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to continue working together to better communicate flood risk behind levees and encourage affected property owners to seek appropriate protection.
- Encourages federal and state governments to expedite the inventory of levees as required in 33 USC Chapter 46.
Levees protect 17 million people and $2.3 trillion of property across the United States. The National Levee Database contains nearly 30,000 miles of levees, with an estimated 10,000 additional miles whose locations and conditions are unknown.
Levee governance is complex and involves agencies at all levels of government. Most levees are operated locally by special levee districts or municipalities. These levee owners rarely have sufficient resources to properly maintain a levee system.
There are currently no additional standards or requirements for levee design, construction, or operation and maintenance. Most of our nation’s levees are decades old and were built without the benefit of modern engineering practices. Even well built and maintained levees can experience problems during extreme floods. In spring 2019, the Midwest experienced severe flooding. Over 80 levee systems within the USACE levee portfolio were overtopped and breached, and over 700 miles of levees were damaged causing over $20 billion in property damage and losses to crops and livestock. The Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 authorized the creation of the National Levee Safety Program, which is modeled after the successful National Dam Safety Program. This program is intended to create levee safety guidelines and a levee rehabilitation program, make progress toward completing the National Levee Database, provide assistance to states for establishing safety programs, and promote community education and awareness about levees. While some progress is being made, appropriated funds have been far below the authorized amount of $79 million per year.
Civil engineers are routinely involved with design, construction, and operation of levee systems to protect citizens and property. ASCE recognizes the importance of levees and has been rating them as a separate category in the ASCE Report for America’s Infrastructure category since 2005.
The nation must use all the tools available to reduce death and damages due to levee failures. This means the use of structural methods, such as levees, floodwalls, and dams, but also non-structural alternatives, such as flood-resistant design, voluntary relocation of homes and businesses from flood-prone areas, the revitalization of wetlands and floodplains for storage, and the use of natural barriers to storm surges.
ASCE Policy Statement 511
First Approved in 2006