U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Engage the Public
Although levees are a critical part of our nation's infrastructure, they do not eliminate the flood risk in its entirety. The millions of Americans, and trillions of dollars in assets located behind levees are still vulnerable to flooding. Though levees can reduce some flood risks, they do not eliminate them. In some cases, levees actually increase risks. By creating a false sense of safety, communities may invest in development in levee impacted areas and thus increase the flood risk. Flood risks associated with levees can change over time. If levees are not properly maintained, risk of failure of the levee may increase resulting in catastrophic flooding.
Levees can be found in nearly one-quarter of the nation’s counties, and roughly 43 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties with levees. It is important that community officials in communities with levees continually communicate the risk associated with them. Along with identifying and communicating the risk, they need to identify the steps needed to protect families, businesses, and the community from the threat of flooding due to levee overtopping, breaching, or seepage. Living with levees is a shared responsibility.
Identifying The Flood Hazard
As the federal agency responsible for administering the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), FEMA identifies flood hazard zones through analyses and mapping projects, including mapping levee system accreditation. The information developed through these flood analyses and projects is provided to communities in the form of maps, called Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). FEMA does not build, own or certify levees. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for building and maintaining USACE-owned levees and for inspecting those structures to determine their level of maintenance. States, communities, and private levee owners are responsible for maintaining and operating the levees they own according to specific design criteria.
For a comprehensive listing of key U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) documents relating to levee assessment, visit USACE’s Levee Safety Program webpage.
Engaging The Public And Other Stakeholders
When levee designations change, effective communication is crucial for addressing questions and concerns about changes in risk. FEMA has created a Levee Outreach Toolkit to assist community officials in reaching out to residents, business owners, and other key industry stakeholders. The toolkit includes templates, flexible materials which local government officials and agencies can adapt and use to effectively communicate about levee risk.
Levee Outreach Toolkit
Ideas for Effective Outreach Toolkit
Levee Accreditation Mapping Status
When a community with a levee goes through the remapping process, some levees may not, or can no longer, be able to be certified as meeting the minimum federal requirements for reducing the flood hazard. Consequently, when the community’s new FIRM becomes effective, the levees will be shown as non-accredited on the FIRM and the levee impacted area designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area (the area inundated by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood).
Levee systems that are certified to have been constructed or improved to a higher standard will be shown on the flood maps as accredited levees with certain areas mapped as a moderate-hazard zone (Zone X (shaded)). Other levee systems that were previously shown as accredited, but now require additional documentation to be certified, may be shown as Provisionally Accredited Levees (PALs).
Communicating About Levee Status
When changes in flood hazards occur, citizens have questions - and so will your community leadership and other department staff. To ensure a smooth transition, be sure elected officials, other department staff, community groups, and other stakeholders are kept informed as the process moves forward. It is particularly important that they understand there is still flood risk when levees are improved; and if the levees are overtopped or fail, the flooding could be catastrophic. They should also know that low-cost preferred risk flood insurance will be available to residents and business owners in areas mapped as moderate-hazard behind the accredited levees.
Provisionally Accredited Levees
Local officials and staff from other departments will be on the front lines to provide information. Property owners in your community will ask questions about provisional accreditation. Arming community leaders with the facts about the current designation, the risk that still exists for the levee to fail or overtop, and the availability of low-cost flood insurance will help them answer those questions.
When changes in flood hazards occur, property owners have questions - and so will your community leadership. To ensure a smooth transition, make certain elected officials, department staff, community groups and other stakeholders are kept informed as the mapping process moves forward. With this information, they will be prepared to answer questions about the NFIP mapping and accreditation process, community safety, changes and impacts of new building and flood insurance requirements, and any steps being taken to improve the levees. This is also an important opportunity to encourage community leaders to revisit hazard mitigation and evacuation planning to encourage best practices to reduce further risk from flooding.
Find Templates and Communication Guides by Stakeholder Group
FEMA has flexible template materials that local government officials and agencies can adapt and use to address flood risks behind levees and the flood insurance implications of levee status changes in their communities.
Homeowners, Businesses & General Public
Real Estate Agents, Lending and Insurance Professionals
Cooperating Technical Partners & Engineers
Levee Mapping Requirements
Levee systems that are designed to provide flood hazard reduction from the 1-percent-annual-chance flood may be accredited by FEMA. For FEMA to accredit a levee system on a FIRM as providing flood hazard reduction from the 1-percent-annual-chance flood, a Professional Engineer, or a Federal Agency that designs levees, must certify that the levee system is in compliance with the requirements outlined in Section 65.10 of the NFIP regulations and provide the appropriate data and documentation.
If FEMA does not receive the data and documentation required to show compliance with Section 65.10 of the NFIP regulations, FEMA will de-accredit the levee – that is, FEMA will map the levee impacted area as SFHA.
Review FEMA’s guidance and standards related to levees and the accreditation process.
For additional information or assistance, contact a Map Specialist in the FEMA Mapping and Insurance eXchange (FMIX).
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