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How enhanced and economically viable engineering analysis can help levee owners evaluate their inventory in response to FEMA’s proposed approach for non-accredited levees

Published: Proceedings from the US Society of Dams 11-15 February 2013 Conference, Phoenix, AZ, USA 2013 02 11-15 USSD Phoenix, AZ

11 Feb 2013
Todd Mitchell, Paul Grosskruger, Cornelia Dean, Bob Woldringh

Our nation faces ongoing challenges to balance the dire risks of levee failures with the enormous costs in mitigating all perils. Government agencies strive to balance practical expenditures with economic loss while maintaining life safety as the top priority. This presents the challenge of enacting justifiable and consistent policies. Thus, many communities in the United States are burdened with the challenge of mitigating flood risks with limited time and funds, and oftentimes have no alternative but to pass this burden on to property owners through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This issue becomes very difficult for property owners to accept when a levee exists to defend their community, yet for reasons that are frequently difficult for the layperson to understand, those levees fail NFIP accreditation requirements and are not considered in the creation of Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM). Through plans to revise its approach to levee assessment with the proposed Levee Analysis and Mapping Procedures (LAMP) policy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plans to enact new provisions for characterizing these levees that fail accreditation and thus affecting property owners in these flood risk zones. However, FEMA’s efforts will not fully resolve the problem. The fiscal responsibility for these newly provised characterization studies will fall directly on the levee owners. In many cases the levee owners will lack the funding to perform these studies and conduct the essential repairs necessary to make changes to the FIRM affecting landward side property owners. Similarly, many levee owners do not have the experience and knowledge to execute such studies in a way that will maximize effectiveness and contribute to a cost-effective remediation strategy. This paper explores a mechanism that shifts the paradigm from reach-level diagnosis (and arguably overly conservative remediation) towards a cost-comparable investigation that can result in precisely targeted remediation. FEMA, levee owners, elected officials, tax payers, and in general all those at risk have the opportunity to benefit from a program that allows categorization of levees by FEMA’s new standards while identifying how to target 2 The Challenge of Managing Aging Infrastructure under a New Financial

selective areas for specific and tailored repairs that directly impact the acceptance grading of the levee and thus affecting flood insurance premiums for landward-side property owners.


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