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Policy Statement 511 - National Levee Safety Program


Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on February 13, 2017 
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on June 5, 2017 
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 29, 2017


The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE):

  • Supports an increase in funding at all levels of government and the leveraging of private funds to address structural and nonstructural solutions that reduce risk to people and property from flooding due to levee failures.
  • 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.   Congress should provide full funding for the National Levee Safety Program established in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. 
  • Urges the federal government to accept the responsibility for the safety of all federally funded and regulated levees.
  • 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 in federal and state levee safety programs.
  • Encourages FEMA to map, based on reliable engineering data, all areas potentially subject to flooding by a levee breach, including residual risk areas behind accredited levees under the National Flood Insurance Program as special flood areas to better communicate risks and encourage affected property owners to seek appropriate protection.
  • Encourages federal and state governments to finish as expeditiously as possible the inventory of levees as required by the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 and the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.


The nation's documented 30,000 miles and up to an estimated 100,000 miles of levees can be found in all 50 states, tribal nations and the District of Columbia. Many of these levees were originally used to protect farmland, and now are increasingly protecting developed communities. The reliability of these levees is unknown in many cases, and the country has yet to establish a National Levee Safety Program. As of early 2017, the National Levee Database accounted for approximately 14,700 miles of levees.

There is no national safety program for federal or non-federal levees. Many privately built levees are deeded to local governments or associations who do not maintain them or even recognize the associated risks. There is no dependable catalog of the location, ownership, condition, or hazard potential of levees in the United States. Flooding from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans in August 2005, demonstrated the need for consistent, up-to-date standards for levees based upon reliable engineering data on their locations, functions, and conditions.


The nation must use all the tools available to reduce damages from hurricanes and major storms. This means the use of structural methods, such as levees, floodwalls, and dams, but also non-structural approaches, 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