GALVESTON, Texas (Dec. 8, 2014) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District hosted more than 150 professionals during the Levee Safety Community of Practice Workshop Dec. 1-4 to discuss the program’s progress and how the risk framework has developed; review changes to policy and guidance documents; provide updates to partners and to facilitate an open forum to discuss program successes and challenges.
“The Corps’ levee safety policies and procedures have changed significantly over the last year,” said Scott Leimer, Levee Safety Program manager with the USACE Galveston District. “It’s imperative that we’re kept current on these changes and understand the implications so that we can convey these changes to our partners and stakeholders.”
According to Leimer, the Corps is preparing to release results from screening level risk assessments for more than 800 levee systems across the nation. Additionally, he says that Rehabilitation Program’s (PL 84-99) eligibility criteria for levees are being revised to focus on broader flood risk management criteria and that the levee inspection checklist is undergoing changes to better depict the physical condition of the levee observed.
“These are just a few of the changes we discussed during the workshop,” said Leimer. “It’s important for our stakeholders and partners to be aware of these changes and we’ll be working closely with them to ensure they understand the changes and how it applies to their structures.”
Other items discussed during the workshop included the process for performing levee evaluations for FEMA purposes, which is being revised to be risk-based, as well as a new policy for Section 408 (requests by others to alter a USACE project). In addition, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act 2014 segment highlighted the congressional action that provides the direction for the Levee Safety program.
“Public safety is our primary focus,” said Leimer. “The Levee Safety Program is an integral component of a broad, national flood risk management effort and while levees reduce the risk of flooding, no levee system can eliminate all flood risk. There is always a chance that a flood will exceed the capacity of a levee, no matter how well built and communicating this risk was a main focus throughout this workshop.”
The USACE uses state-of-the-art technology and consistent risk methodologies to inspect and properly ‘rate’ the levee systems to determine compliance with operation and maintenance requirements, measures of performance, understand the overall levee condition and establish eligibility for federal rehabilitation assistance, which provides reimbursement for specific damages to levees that result from high-water events.
While many levees are federally constructed, they are operated and maintained by local sponsors to a standard level acceptable to the Corps to prevent routine damages and reduce the possibility of levee failure.
“With the information I gained during the workshop, I’ll be able to better inform our sponsors and stakeholders of the latest information regarding the Levee Safety Program,” said Leimer. “The development of the Levee Safety Engineer Circular and the update to the Levee Engineer Manual are important developments for the sponsors of the seven levees we oversee here in the district.”
Local sponsors such as the Velasco Drainage District for the Freeport Hurricane Levee System (which consists of 44 miles of coastal and riverine levees) were interested to learn more about the Corps’ policy changes.
“Our district has been intimately involved with the USACE Levee Safety Community for nine years in our attempt to comply with the new federal requirements,” said George Kidwell, chairman of the Velasco Draining District. “The Levee Safety Community has been open-minded, flexible and helpful in establishing an environment that has allowed us a reasonable, practicable plan forward to address all the issues involved.
Kidwell explained that the Velasco Drainage District’s levee system is included in an in-depth risk assessment, the Sabine-Galveston Feasibility Study and is currently submitting its System-Wide Improvement Framework Policy Plan to correct known deficiencies.
The USACE Galveston District staff encourages residents to know the risks associated with living and/or working behind levees and their roles in reducing those risks. To learn more about the USACE Galveston Levee Safety Program, visit http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Missions/LeveeSafetyProgram.aspx. Find the USACE Galveston District on Facebook, www.facebook.com/GalvestonDistrict or follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/USACEgalveston.