Portland District

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New Start Feasibility Study of the Portland metropolitan area levee system

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CENWP-PM
ATTN: Laura Hicks
P.O. Box 2946
Portland, OR 97208-2946

503-808-4510

Multnomah County Drainage District

Levees and flood risk management

Aerial view of community along a waterway benefitting from levee protection

Public safety is the priority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Levee Safety Program. Levees provide tremendous benefits to communities and contributed to preventing more than $120 billion of damages nationally in 2011. The Corps works to better understand, manage and reduce the flood risks associated with levees.

At Portland District, we manage many activities to assess the reliability and capability of levees within District boundaries. We recommend courses of action to help ensure that levee systems do not present unacceptable risks to the public, property and environment. We also work to inform stakeholders that levees and levee systems do not remove all risks from flooding. Levee safety and communicating risk is a shared responsibility among federal, state, local and private partners. This is extremely important so that individuals can participate in public safety decisions. Overall, the Corps’ levee safety program provides continuous feedback about levee systems through rigorous inspections and assessments.

What's a levee?

Levee: A man-made structure, usually an earthen embankment or concrete floodwall, designed and constructed in accordance with sound engineering practices to contain, control, or divert the flow of water so as to provide reasonable assurance of excluding temporary flooding from the leveed area.

Levee Segment: A discrete portion of a levee system that is operated and maintained by a single entity. 

Levee System: One or more levee segments and other features such as floodwalls and pump stations, which are interconnected and necessary to ensure exclusion of the design flood from the associated leveed area. 

Leveed Area: The lands from which flood water is excluded by the levee system. 

 

Whose levee?

It is a common misconception that USACE manages all levees in the nation. In reality, the levees included in the USACE Levee Safety Program represent only about 10 percent of the nation’s levees (as estimated by the National Committee on Levee Safety). However, more than 10 million people live or work behind USACE program levees.  For this reason, USACE considers its role in assessing, communicating and managing risk to be a top priority. There are many miles of private-party, federal, state and local levees outside the Corps’ inspection program. Presently, there is no universal oversight of levees in the nation.

Several classes of levees exist within the Portland District area of responsibility, with differing degrees of federal involvement:

  • Levees built, operated and maintained by the federal government;
  • Levees built by the federal government and then turned over for operation and maintenance by a local sponsor;
  • Levees constructed by a non-federal entity and are enrolled in the Corps' Rehabilitation and Inspection Program; and 
  • Levees that were neither built by the federal government nor are part of federal operations or maintenance programs. 

Levees of the Nation

The National Levee Database (NLD) is the authoritative resource for information about levees in the United States. You can use the NLD to learn about levees in the United States. With the NLD’s easy-to-use and highly functional tools, you can find levees and learn about their purpose and impact on the surrounding area. The NLD provides easy access to comprehensive levee information resources including flood risk communication, levee system evaluation for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), levee inspections, flood plain management, and risk assessment. The NLD is intended to be a primary information resource for federal, state and local governments, agencies, and organizations, as well as the general public.


Levees and public safety

Public safety is the Corps’ number one priority. To reduce flood risks, improve public safety, and communicate to local levee sponsors and the public the overall condition of levee systems and recommended actions, the Corps has created a more comprehensive and rigorous levee inspection process under its Levee Safety Program.

USACE Levee Safety Program: Shared Risks. Shared Solutions.

Principles of the levee safety program:

  • Levees do not eliminate flood risk, but can provide critical time for local emergency management officials to evacuate residents safely. 
  • It is important to communicate accurate and timely information about the risk of living and working behind levees. Communicating risk-related issues and concerns, holding life safety as paramount, supports Corps and local decisions aimed at reducing risk. 
  • Levee safety is a component of a broader flood risk management approach. Levee safety actions should be incorporated into a community's Hazard Mitigation Plan. 
  • A sustainable, systems and collaborative approach is the most effective way to manage and assess levees and other flood risk reduction methods. 
  • Levee safety and managing risks are shared responsibilities. With this, the Corps works closely with federal, state and local partners to share information and develop solutions.