EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — December 12, 2007

The National Levee Safety Program
An Overview from USACE and FEMA

Edward J. Hecker
Chief, Office of Homeland Security and Provost Marshal
Directorate of Civil Works, Headquarters, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers

Kelly Bronowicz, CFM
Program Specialist, Risk Analysis Division
Mitigation Directorate, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us today. On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is "The National Levee Safety Program: An Overview from USACE and FEMA."

Up front, I would like to thank Butch Kinerney at FEMA and Pete Pierce at the Corps for helping us to line up our speakers today. They are both experts and we are delighted that they could participate.

With the recent passage of P.L. 110-114, the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, which authorizes the National Levee Safety Program, our session today is very timely. Please see our Background Page for links to this legislation and related Web sites. Now it is my pleasure to introduce our special guests.

Edward J. Hecker, Chief, Office of Homeland Security, Directorate of Civil Works, Headquarters, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Ed serves as Program Manager for all USACE efforts to assist Federal, state and local emergency management and emergency response organizations. His responsibilities also include leadership of the Corps' Homeland Security and emergency management community of practice and protection of the Corps critical water resources infrastructure. After serving in San Francisco as the Chief, Emergency Management for the South Pacific Division, he returned to Washington, DC during 1991 to assume the position of the Chief, Readiness Branch of the Operations, Construction and Readiness Division, having responsibility for overall management of the Corps disaster preparedness and response missions.

Kelly Bronowicz, CFM is a Program Specialist in the Risk Analysis Division, Mitigation Directorate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in Washington, D.C. Kelly has been with FEMA for over 3 years and is the Engineering Management Branch's lead for technical issues related to flood mapping. Her involvement includes coordinating with FEMA regional offices, and mapping contractors and partners in managing and monitoring revisions and restudies of the flood maps. One of her main responsibilities is to oversee levee issues, including developing national policy that the regional offices and mapping partners implement as they produce maps for the NFIP, and collaborating and coordinating with other Federal agencies, national associations, as well as state and local entities on levee-related issues.

Welcome to you both and again, we are delighted you could join us today. I now turn the floor over to Mr. Hecker to start us off please.


Ed Hecker: Hello, thank you for joining us today. I wanted to get started by providing an overview of our Levee Safety Program.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood risk management mission began with the 1917 Flood Control Act. The act gave the Corps a significant role in flood activities nationwide, to include the protection of life and property behind federal program levee systems.

Hurricane Katrina’s and Rita’s devastation in 2005 brought levee safety to the forefront of public awareness. The findings of subsequent investigations into the flood risk management system’s performance in New Orleans clearly point to the need for a comprehensive and risk-informed approach to national levee safety, including periodic inspections and reassessments.

On November 8, 2007, the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, of 2007 was enacted into law. Title IX of WRDA, cited as the National Levee Safety Act of 2007, authorizes the Corps to develop a strategic implementation plan and recommendations on a national levee safety program, in addition to, the inventory and inspection of levees.

The Corps’ levee safety program emphasizes the role of levees in flood risk management to avoid loss of life and property damage. The Corps’ Flood Risk Management Program strives to achieve three goals:

• First, reduce risk and increase public safety through an informed public, empowered to take responsibility for its safety;

• Second, develop a clear national levee safety policy and standards;

• And finally, maintain a sustainable flood risk management system that meets public safety needs.

After the Hurricanes of 2005, we recognized the need to fully understand the status and condition of the federal program levee systems in the nation.

Congress appropriated funds for the Corps to initiate a national levee inventory and assessment program to determine the status and condition of the federal program levee systems in the nation. The data gathered from this and future inventories will help identify public safety risks associated with levee systems across the nation.

The Corps completed an initial survey of federal program levees systems in July of 2006 and developed a national database to capture information about each levee, including the location and last recorded inspection rating.

The initial Corps survey included approximately 2,000 levee segments, encompassing approximately 13,000 miles, in the Corps Inspection of Completed Works (ICW) and Rehabilitation and Inspection (RIP) programs.

Inspection of Completed Works (ICW) is a Corps of Engineers program that includes periodic inspection of projects. These projects fall under ER1110-2-530. Rehabilitation and Inspection Program (RIP), is a Corps of Engineers program to perform inspections of non-federal projects under ER500-1 and the provisions of Public Law 84-99, if so requested by the local sponsor. An initial eligibility inspection must be performed by the Corps of Engineers and subsequent maintenance inspections are required.

Levees included in either the Corps’ Inspection of Completed Works (ICW) and Rehabilitation and Inspection (RIP) programs are one of the following: (1) federally owned and maintained; (2) federally built and locally maintained; and (3) locally built, operated and maintained, and included in the RIP. This is depicted on Slide 1.

[Slide 1]

Federal levees are Flood Control Works (Levees/Flood Protection Projects) built by and maintained by the Corps of Engineers.

The locally built and maintained levees are non-federal projects built by a local community. These projects can be incorporated into the Rehabilitation and Inspection Program at the request of a local community, but need to be maintained and operated properly by the local community in order to stay in the program.

Federally built and locally maintained levees are federal projects built by the Corps or congressionally authorized into the Corps program and turned over to a local sponsor to operate and maintain.

These projects are included in the Inspection of Completed Works program, and are automatically incorporated into the Rehabilitation and Inspection Program. These projects, if properly maintained and operated by the community, may stay in the program.

Corps’ levee assessment and inventory includes all of the levees that are part of the ICW and RIP programs, regardless of the level of protection. Some of these levees are included in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This is depicted on Slide 2.

[Slide 2]

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program also includes levees that fall outside of the Corps’ ICW and RIP programs. Please refer to Slide 3.

[Slide 3]

Many of the ICW and RIP projects were authorized by Congress for federal construction and later turned over to state and local sponsors to operate and maintain. These projects are inspected on a bi-annual schedule.

Last February, as part of our bi-annual inspection, we notified levee owners that had unacceptable maintenance inspection ratings. An unacceptable maintenance rating means a levee has one or more deficient conditions that can reasonably be foreseen to prevent the project from functioning as designed. Examples of maintenance deficiencies include: animal burrows, erosion, tree growth, movement of floodwalls or faulty culvert conditions.

Levee owners were given a one-year grace period to allow local owners time to address project maintenance deficiencies. We understand the challenge this presents to local communities, and are working with our partner agencies at all levels.

In addition to visual inspections, the Corps will be assessing levees currently in the inventory. The assessment is expected to take five years to complete and will begin in 2008 if funds are appropriated.

The Corps is currently developing an analytical methodology to evaluate the risk associated with levees in the national database. This methodology is currently under review. Once the methodology is finalized, it will be tested for accuracy and effectiveness. In the meantime, we are in the process of developing a system to prioritize projects to evaluate.

Moving forward, now that the National Levee Safety Act of 2007 has become law, the Corps of Engineers is evaluating how it will be expanding the inventory and assessment program. This next slide depicts that expansion.

[Slide 4]

Prior to the enactment of the National Levee Safety Act, Corps’ levee safety program only covered levee categories 1, 2, 3. The new law greatly expands the program. There are between 10,000 to 20,000 levees covered in the Water Resources Development Act.

Since the National Levee Safety Act this is a new law, we are evaluating the best approach to implement the creation of the provisions of the law. One aspect of the law is to form a "Committee on Levee Safety" that will develop recommendations for a national levee safety program, including a strategic implementation plan. The recommendations will address the nine program goals named in National Levee Safety Act.

Our final National Levee Safety Program strategic plan will be submitted to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on the House of Representatives and the Committee on Environment and Public Works in the Senate. In addition, the Final Strategic Plan will be posted in the Federal Register for public comment and focused reviews will be conducted.

This covers our part of the presentation. Let me turn it over to Kelly Bronowicz to share FEMA's perspective and the relationship to Map Modernization and the National Flood Insurance Program.

Kelly Bronowicz: This is my first time participating in this Virtual Forum and I am excited to be a part of this session. Now that you have heard from Ed Hecker and what the USACE is doing for the National Flood Risk Management Program and National Levee Safety Program. I would like to cover how the levee issues relate to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and some of our latest activities.

FEMA does not own or operate levee systems and does not have the authority to certify or decertify them. However, as administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), FEMA is responsible for identifying flood hazards and assessing flood risks for communities nationwide. This information is shown on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). FEMA has an effort underway called Flood Map Modernization, or "Map Mod" http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/mm_main.shtm, to update and modernize existing FIRMs for most of the Nation.

We are finding that levees are present in more than 25% of the counties for which updated FIRMs are being prepared. Therefore, it is important that the flood risks for property behind levees are properly assessed and accurately mapped, and FEMA is working with its Federal, State, regional, and local partners to do just that.

The requirements for the mapping of areas protected by levees, which have been in effect since 1986, are listed under Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 65.10 (44 CFR 65.10). FEMA regulations require certification of any levee shown on a FIRM as providing protection from the 1-percent-annual-chance flood (base flood).

The provisions of 44 CFR 65.10 state the community or other party seeking recognition of a levee (in many cases the levee owner) is responsible for providing certain data and documentation. The required data and documentation, which address the integrity of a levee and its ability to provide adequate protection from the base flood, must be certified by a registered professional engineer or a Federal agency with responsibility for levee design.

On August 22, 2005, FEMA issued Procedure Memorandum No. 34 (PM 34) to reiterate the importance of compliance with existing levee certification requirements for all studies/mapping projects undertaken as part of the Flood Map Modernization effort. In developing PM 34, FEMA carefully examined the responsibilities of the Federal Government and the communities and/or levee owners that require accreditation of the flood protection effectiveness of their levees. PM 34 clarified that the community or levee owners are the responsible entities for providing certification of their levees identified during a study/mapping project.

As 44 CFR 65.10 states and PM 34 reiterates, all levee systems to be shown as providing base flood protection on new and revised FIRMs must be reviewed to determine whether certification or recertification is warranted. If it can be shown that a levee or levee system provides the appropriate level of protection, FEMA will "accredit," or recognize, the levee or levee system as providing adequate protection, and the area behind it will be shown as a moderate risk zone (shaded Zone X) on the FIRM. In addition to identifying the residual risk area with a shaded Zone X designation, a notation will be added to the FIRM to denote the area is protected by a levee.

As the FEMA regions were mapping communities nationwide, they were finding that many communities/levee owners would require additional time to collect and submit documentation to show compliance with 44 CFR 65.10 (and certify their levees). In addition, the lack of readily available data and documentation has in some cases caused flood studies to be delayed or placed on hold until the required information can be provided to FEMA. These delays mean the existing maps remain in effect and prevent the release of more up-to-date flood hazard information for areas of the communities that are not affected by the levee system. These delays could lead local officials to use outdated flood hazard information to regulate floodplain development throughout their communities. These outcomes would be inconsistent with a primary goal of Flood Map Modernization: to provide communities with up-to-date, accurate, and reliable flood hazard and risk information on FIRMs.

In an effort to minimize delays and assist communities, FEMA issued Procedure Memorandum No. 43 (PM 43) on September 26, 2006, and revised on March 16, 2007. The clarifications in PM 43 allow maps to move forward while in some cases, providing the communities/levee owners 24 months to compile the necessary documentation. This process is referred to as Provisionally Accredited Levee process. PAL for short. If a levee system requires improvement to meet the standards specified in the NFIP regulations, it does not qualify for the PAL designation.

To give you a little more information, PM 43 describes criteria for different scenarios for determining whether a levee can be provisionally accredited with providing base flood protection. If FEMA identifies a levee that is portrayed as providing base flood protection on the effective FIRM, but cannot readily provide certification documentation, a community or levee owner can sign an agreement if they believe the levee meets the requirements of 44 CFR 65.10, but additional time is needed to compile documentation.

The levee owner or a community official must sign and return the agreement to FEMA which indicated that full documentation, as specified in 44 CFR 65.10, will be provided within 24 months. The PAL process gives the communities and levee owners some flexibility when they believe the levee provides protection to the base flood but, need some time to compile the necessary documentation.

For those levees that are not eligible for the PAL process or cannot be shown to meet the requirements established under 44 CFR 65.10, FEMA will initiate a mapping effort to de-accredit the levee. Upon de-accrediting the levee, the area behind the levee will be identified as Special Flood Hazard Area and floodplain management regulations and flood insurance will be required. Again FEMA does not have the authority to certify or de-certify levees but, rather to identify the appropriate flood risk behind flood protection structures (i.e. accredit/de-accredit).

In addition to working with local communities and levee owners to determine which levees can be accredited or provisionally accredited so that the maps being produced during Map Mod are as accurate as possible, FEMA is engaged with USACE in the development of a National Levee Database (NLD).

FEMA has taken a subset of the National Levee Database and has begun to populate information as we touch counties in our mapping effort. The hope is to one day have information documented for levees nationwide. This will help both USACE and FEMA in understanding the status of the Nation’s flood-damage reduction systems.

I would like to wrap-up by saying that we appreciate all the hard work of the FEMA regions, mapping partners, USACE districts, communities, and levee owners in helping use ensure that the flood maps reflect the most accurate information possible.

Useful informational documents regarding levees and FEMA procedures for mapping levee-affected areas are available on the FEMA website. The gateway to the FEMA-provided levee information is http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/lv_intro.shtm. The website is arranged by stakeholder group, and additional materials will be added as they are developed.

Thank you for your time and attention. I will be available for your questions. I now turn the floor back to our Moderator.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Ed and Kelly.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Isabel McCurdy: Is funding from FEMA available to bring levees up to standards?

Kelly Bronowicz: No, funding is provided to update the FEMA flood maps.

Elmer Knoderer: Ed, do other Federal levees fit into the Corps inspection program?

Ed Hecker: Other federal levees do not fall under the Corps inspection program other than on a reimbursable basis. WRDA 2007 will enable us to include all federal levees in the national levee data base.

A Ahmed III: There are many structures (e.g. spurs, roads, canals) that essentially function as levees, however recently many of these were decertified. What can we (as engineers) do to get these levees certified? It seems that there is a much more political issue in levee certification than just pure technical concern. What do you say? How can we do better? What do you advise?

Ed Hecker: Certification is a local owner/sponsor responsibility. The levee must meet the CFR 6510 requirements.

Kelly Bronowicz: There are features in the field that act as levees and may be shown as providing protection on flood maps. For these features, in order to meet the regulations and continue to be accredited, they will need to meet 65.10.

Larry Daniels-Murray CFM: Mr. Hecker, I provide consulting services to the Atherton Levee District, USACE project #R-351 in the Kansas City district. Is the R-351 material in the National Levee Database available to our levee district?

Ed Hecker: We will establish a Web access to the NLD once it has been completed.

Frank Aebly: In regards to the assessment planned to start in 2008, will this include a re-evaluation of levees that were certified in response to PM 43?

Ed Hecker: The Corps risk assessment is separate and distinct from the NFIP levee certification process. The Corps assessment will address levees that have previously been certified for NFIP.

Kelly Bronowicz: If I could add, FEMA and USACE are working to see how risk assessment will align or not align with levee accreditation.

Karen Frederich: We heard that floodways along rivers will be shown on the LANDSIDE toe of a levee. Is this true? If so, what is the rationale?

Kelly Bronowicz: You are correct that graphically floodways should be delineated on the landward toe of the levee. This should be done in the case where the floodway falls somewhere within the levee and in cases where there are specific state statutes that require it.

Andy Hadsell: Ed, what is being done to document any risk factor to public safety from a security threat perspective (man-made damage to levees)?

Ed Hecker: DHS has established a levee security working group within the government coordinating council for the dam and levee sectors. The Corps is participating.

Mike McKay: We have a third party maintaining levees in our community. What should we be doing to ensure compliance?

Ed Hecker: The district will provide you a copy of the levee inspection report. This is not a replacement for quality assurance that the levee sponsor is responsible for. We have encouraged our districts to engage sponsors and communities in this dialogue.

Rick Tobin: Mr. Hecker, you mentioned one of the failings of levees being rodent burrowing. In some cases controls have been restricted because of the rodent being a protected species. Has USACE worked to find ways for working past these federal restrictions when it comes to the safety and protection of human life?

Ed Hecker: This is the responsibility of the local sponsor to adhere to all applicable environmental laws and regulations. We are engaging the resource agencies as partners in the national levee safety program.

John Ivey: Kelly, does FEMA plan to update 65.10?

Kelly Bronowicz: We do. We received recommendations from an interagency group. We are looking in the recommendations and plan to incorporate as appropriate. The interagency report can be found on our website, if you are interested in seeing the recommendations. [The National Levee Challenge: Levees and the FEMA Flood Map Modernization Initiative, Interagency Levee Policy Review Committee report to FEMA. See http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/lv_report.shtm]

Gene Rovak: Will any data derived by Corps efforts building NLDB or safety inspections be useable for PAL documentation? COE surveys are not generally sealed by an LS. [Licensed Surveyor?]

Ed Hecker: The Corps goal is communicate everything about our findings to local sponsors and communities.

Kelly Bronowicz: We are working with USACE on trying to determine what information is usable for future certifications.

A Ahmed III: Well, all the counties are scared of the O & M requirement under 65.10, and so the problem becomes a political /liability issue more than a pure technical matter.

Kelly Bronowicz: O&M is necessary in ensuring public safety as well as ensuring that the levee continues to meet 65.10 requirements. Communities should not be scared of O&M. It should be a part of their standard practice.

Rick Tobin: To Ms Bronowicz, do you know what the reserve fund was in the NFIP prior to these changes in re-evaluation of levee protection in the mapping program?

Kelly Bronowicz: We have never had funding specifically set aside for levees. Our money is directed at accurately mapping flood hazards.

Rocky Keehn: Ed, has the Corps established any evaluation protocol for levees in cases where data is not available?

Ed Hecker: All initial evaluations are based upon existing information. Results identify where data gaps exist.

Ken Carper: Ed and Kelly, what formal role, if any, are state agencies expected to play in this process?

Ed Hecker: That is one of the primary questions to be addressed by the levee safety committee under the provisions of WRDA 2007.

Kelly Bronowicz: In terms of certification and mapping, that really depends on the state.

Len Clark: For Mr. Hecker. I have received notice that a levee in my area of responsibility is now listed as "unacceptable" due solely to the lack of a SINGLE public sponsor. The system in question has two public sponsors, three private entities and one defunct public corporation listed as owners and managers of the program. I understand the Corps contention, but property rights, and a whole host of other legal issues come into play. The line is that "sponsorship is not ownership", but is there really a substantial difference?

Ed Hecker: We simply require a viable public sponsor for all levees in the Corps program. Sponsorship is not necessarily ownership. A key requirement is the financial capability to operate and maintain the levee system. Beyond this, we would need more specific information about this levee system.

Jessica Baker: Does the Corps have funding to clean up deficient levees?

Ed Hecker: Correction of maintenance deficiencies is the sponsor responsibility. The Corps has funding to address deficiencies on projects we operate and maintain.

Gary Dicenta: If a levee has been inspected every year by the Corps, and the owners have always corrected what was requested by the Corps, why do the have to go thru the certification process?

Ed Hecker: Corps inspection does not equate to NFIP certification.

Kelly Bronowicz: Just because a levee is inspected annually doesn't mean that it is certified. FEMA needs documentation in order to continue to accredit the levee on FEMA flood maps. Inspections are a small part of the process. Inspection doesn't mean 1% protection.

Andy Hadsell: Kelly, when implementing the PAL process, are there concerns about levee owners taking advantage of the time to complete man-made improvements to the levee system, or are existing conditions well documented in the PAL paperwork?

Kelly Bronowicz: There is some concern about taking advantage of the 24 months to do levee rehab. However, we ask for O&M plans and additional maintenance records to try to ensure that the levee doesn't need to be improved to meet 65.10.

Kent Zenobia: When do you anticipate the NLD being completed and available?

Ed Hecker: We anticipate having the federal program levees portion of the NLD completed in two years subject to funding. The non-federal levee legislation provides for completion by 2013, subject to funding.

Tim Nickel: Is there an idea when States will have access to the Risk Evaluating model that is currently under review? (LaDOTD) I am thinking in terms of value planning.

Ed Hecker: At this point, we really can't answer that definitively. We expect to complete beta testing this year. Sharing the methodology with states should follow.

Dan Deegan: Has FEMA considered protection above the base flood and/or considering requiring Flood Insurance behind all levees? When (not if) a levee fails, it's catastrophic and the homeowner does not have any flood insurance, but we know the risk is there.

Kelly Bronowicz: For insurance purpose, we are reflecting those that provide protection to or above 1%. Regarding the insurance behind levees, that issue has been floating on the Hill for awhile. Nothing has been decided yet. Because of the risk, we do encourage that property owners purchase insurance if they live behind a levee.


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much Ed and Kelly for an excellent job. We hope you enjoyed the experience. Again, thanks to Butch and Pete, and also thanks to Jennifer Lynch with the Corps in providing assistance with coordination.

Kelly Bronowicz: If there are questions related to certification and mapping, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

[Questions related to the Corps program may be sent to Walter Pierce, [email protected] ]

Amy Sebring: Please stand by just a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements. Again, the formatted transcript will be available later today. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page to Subscribe.

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Thanks to everyone for participating today. This is our last session for 2007 and Avagene and I want to wish you safe and happy holidays! Our warmest season greetings go to you and your families.

Please join us January 16th for a program devoted to the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which should be very interesting.

We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Ed and Kelly for a fine job!