Members of the Rangers led the First Continental Army during America’s Revolutionary War, and their “No man left behind” motto became a central fixture of U.S. military protocol. The slogan communicated the need to make sure that EVERYONE was taken care of. But do we have the same policy when it comes to levees? At the Federal level, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has worked over the past decades to adopt a consistent set of standards for how to build levees, operate and maintain levees, and flood flight levees.  But those standards only apply to Federal levees – those that are Federally authorized or have chosen to enter the P.L 84-99 program. What about the rest of the levees – the tens of thousands of miles of levees not in the Federal program?

The Levee Safety Program versus the NATIONAL Levee Safety Program

Approximately 7,000 levee systems have been identified across the U.S., with information on those levees available in the National Levee Database, whether Federal or not. 1,600 of those levee systems fall under the purview of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Levee Safety Program and were built with federal investment using standardized design and construction methods and enjoy the benefit of consistency in levee inspections, risk assessments, data collection, etc. These levees provide flood risk reduction benefits to nearly 13 million people and $1.4 trillion of infrastructure. But what about the other 5,400 levee systems? These levees were built using varying design and construction methods and are owned, operated, and maintained differently by a wide variety of entities. Those responsible for these non-federal levees do not benefit from the consistency provided by the USACE’s Levee Safety Program and are not burdened by any regulatory requirements.

In order to support all levee stakeholders, particularly those who have levees that are not under the USACE Levee Safety Program, USACE and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are developing a new program – the National Levee Safety Program. Under this program, tools and resources are being developed to help stakeholders promote consistent levee management, reduce flood impacts, and increase community resilience in areas behind levees. Examples include levee best practices, a model levee safety program framework for states, an updated user-friendly version of the National Levee Database where stakeholders and the public can go to find the most current information about their levee, and training and templates to assist those with levee responsibilities complete their day-to-day levee activities.

The main components of the National Levee Safety Program are intended to work together to facilitate an integrated framework for managing reliable levee systems to protect people and reduce property damage from floods in order to achieve the following objectives:

  • Levee owners and all levels of government understand their roles and responsibilities in managing flood risk and creating resilient communities
  • Levee owners have the knowledge and tools to manage levee performance
  • Communities have access to clear and actionable information regarding the benefits and risks of living with levees
  • Levee owners and all levels of governmental agencies manage levees in a manner to reduce environmental impacts
  • Federal agencies will align their programs to support levee-related flood risk management and community resiliency activities, starting with USACE and FEMA

As the National Levee Safety Program is developed, USACE and FEMA tell us they will:

  • Engage in dialogue with all levels of government (federal/state/regional/local/tribal)
  • Conduct robust stakeholder engagement
  • Develop a robust set of voluntary national guidelines
  • Improve inspection and assessment capacity and tools
  • Use risk information to help inform decisions about levees
  • Align federal flood risk management programs where applicable

So, if you are a levee owner or operator and are not connected to a Federal levee, then this program is for you. Get to know it. Decide for yourself: are you (i) happy that the Federal government is creating a program that provides resources for all of those levees that had been left behind; or, would you (ii) rather the program not exist for fear that it might become more than some offered resources and turn into some Federal requirements you don’t want to meet. We’d love to hear from you in the chat.

Photo of Scott L. Shapiro Scott L. Shapiro

Scott Shapiro is known for his expertise in flood protection improvement projects throughout California’s Central Valley.
He is helping clients with more than a billion dollars in projects in California’s Central Valley and issues involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the…

Scott Shapiro is known for his expertise in flood protection improvement projects throughout California’s Central Valley.
He is helping clients with more than a billion dollars in projects in California’s Central Valley and issues involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) throughout the Western United States.

With a special focus on massive flood protection improvement projects, Scott advises clients through regulatory, contractual, financing, and legislative challenges. Acting as general or special counsel, he regularly interacts with senior management at USACE (Headquarters, South Pacific Division, and Sacramento District), the California Department of Water Resources, and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board. He was named to the National Section 408 Task Force and has been invited to give testimony to the National Academies. Scott was instrumental in helping the first regional flood improvement agency that took a basin threatened by flood risk from less than 30-year level of protection to a level of protection approaching 200-year.

Having worked with FEMA on issues of floodplain mapping and levee accreditation for many years, Scott has developed collaborative environments in which he fosters win-win solutions for his clients. He is also currently serving as the lead counsel on a flood insurance rate map (FIRM) appeal and has drafted Federal legislation to modify the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) several times.

Scott is known throughout the region for his extensive litigation experience focusing on cases arising from levee failures. He has litigated levee failures resulting from underseepage, failed encroachments, and rodent burrows as well as briefing levee overtopping cases at the appellate level. Scott is one of the few attorneys with experience litigating flood cases on behalf of plaintiffs as well as defendant government entities.