Portland District

Home > Missions > Water Management > Levees > Safety

Safety and inspections

Aerial view of community along a waterway benefitting from levee protectionPublic 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.


Projects in the Corps’ program include: levees owned, operated, and maintained by the Corps; levees designed and built by the Corps and then turned over to a local sponsor to operate and maintain; and levees designed and built by a non-federal entity that have been accepted into the Corps’ Rehabilitation and Inspection Program. 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.

Contact us

Phone: 503-808-4510

Email: portlandleveesafety@usace.army.mil

Inspection overview

Collapse All Expand All
Click here to expand contentClick here to collapse content  
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has created a more comprehensive and rigorous levee inspection process under its Levee Safety Program to aid district offices in communicating to local levee sponsors and the public the overall condition of the levee system and recommending actions to reduce flood risk.
  • Ensure the levee system will perform as expected.
  • Identify deficiencies or areas that need monitoring or immediate repair.
  • Continuously assess the integrity of the levee system to identify any changes over time.
  • Collect information to help make informed decisions about future actions.
  • Provide the public with reliable information about levees.
  1. Routine Inspections, also called annual inspections or continuing eligibility inspections, are visual inspections that verify proper levee system operation and maintenance. Routine Inspections are conducted on an annual basis.
  2. Periodic Inspections provide a more rigorous assessment than the Routine Inspection and include a more detailed and consistent evaluation of the condition of the levee system. Periodic Inspections verify proper operation and maintenance; evaluate operational adequacy, structural stability and safety of the system; and compare current design and construction criteria with those in place when the levee was built. Periodic Inspections are conducted every five years.

Picture of person evaluating a leveeBoth Routine and Periodic inspections incorporate a consistent inspection checklist and result in a levee system rating for operation and maintenance. This rating determines if a levee system is active in the Corps’ Rehabilitation and Inspection Program. Active levees are eligible for federal rehabilitation funds for flood damages. A levee system must maintain an acceptable rating to remain active. If a project receives a minimally acceptable or unacceptable Inspection rating, it may become ineligible for federal rehabilitation assistance if damaged in a flood or storm event.


Inspection results of acceptable, minimally acceptable or unacceptable are provided to project sponsors to address deficiencies. Additionally, the District will work with sponsors to identify performance concerns, areas for further analysis, changes in design criteria and potential consequences of levee failures that need to be addressed in order to provide the continued safety of the levee.


The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also referred to as the Economic Stimulus Bill, passed by the U.S. House and Senate and signed by President Barack Obama on February 17, 2009, provided $90 million for the Corps to conduct Periodic Inspections of levees covered by the Levee Safety Program.


Sponsors of projects rated minimally acceptable or unacceptable may request temporary extensions of eligibility for the Rehabilitation and Inspection Program if taking system-wide steps to reduce flood risks.


The development of a National Levee Safety Program is a combined effort of many individuals with divergent ideas. Two important principles guiding the Levee Safety Program are the shared responsibility among partners at all levels for levee safety and the need for communication of risk as discovered in the continuous and periodic levee system inspections and assessments. Partners include the Corps, levee and drainage district sponsors, other federal and state agencies as well a citizens that make their own risk-based choices.


Collapse All Expand All
  • Public safety is the number one priority of the Corps' Levee Safety Program.
  • Clear policies and standards, consistently applied and enforced, are critical components of the Corps' Levee Safety Program.
  • In order to clarify and better communicate vegetation-management standards, the Corps has reviewed its national policy and standards and has developed Engineering Technical Letter (ETL) No. 1110-2-571 Guidelines for Landscape Planting and Vegetation Management at Levees, Floodwalls, Embankment Dams, and Appurtenant Structures.
  • This Engineering Technical Letter does not establish new standards, but clarifies, and supersedes, those formerly presented in EM 1110-2-301 (Jan. 1, 2000).
  • An Independent External Peer Review and Independent Technical Review (ITR) validated the Engineering Technical Letter based upon existing and available engineering and scientific data.
  • The clarified standards outlined in the Engineering Technical Letter are mandatory: they apply to all flood damage reduction projects in the Corps’ program, and will be incorporated into applicable Levee Safety Program processes and guidance.
  • Existing scientific literature does not conclusively validate or invalidate current Corps vegetation standards. The Corps is currently undertaking a two-year research program to enable reassessment of its engineering-based understanding of the public safety consequences of vegetation on flood damage reduction projects.
  • Any change to current Corps vegetation management policy and standards will be based upon sound engineering and science, and will not adversely affect public safety.
  • Independent Peer Review recommendations have been incorporated into the research plan; are being incorporated into the revision of vegetation variance policy and other guidance; and will be incorporated into any post-research updating of vegetation-management policy and standards.
  • Public safety will remain the paramount consideration.
  • Fifteen feet is the minimally accepted vegetation free zone (VFZ) and is widely viewed as not sufficient for all projects. To date, no research exists to justify a reduction to existing standards.
  • If an existing project easement (real estate interest) allows for less than 15 feet, the vegetation free zone shall be the maximum attainable within the existing real estate interest.
  • The Engineering Technical Letter discusses a limited range of conditions under which a variance to vegetation standards may be granted. The variance request process is currently under revision and interim guidance is available through the Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Levee Safety Program Manager (LSPM). Public safety will not be compromised.
  • The standards in the Engineering Technical Letter are not new, and the Corps has considered them critical to flood damage reduction project reliability for decades.

The Corps designed and constructed flood reduction projects using appropriate standards at the time of project construction and design standards have evolved over the past 100 years. One area of current design concern is vegetation near, or on, levees. The existence of woody vegetation on or near levees may reduce the levee-performance and thereby increase the risk of loss of life and property.


The Corps' variance request procedure published in the Federal Register (February 17, 2012) provides substantive and procedural standards to ensure full consideration of environmental issues and alternatives, and an opportunity for the public to participate in evaluating environmental factors and alternatives. The effort undertaken by the public sponsor in submitting a variance request through the Corps' variance procedure is considered the opportunity for the public to participate.