Natonal Committee Urges Levee Checks Due to Midwest Flooding

December 12, 2008

America needs a complete inventory of all levees and a national safety standard for the last line of defense against floods, members of the National Committee on Levee Safety said on Dec. 10.

The committee formed as the result of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. It will make recommendations to Congress in January. The 16-member committee is chaired by the Army Corps of Engineers and is made up of representatives with expertise in levees from federal, state and local governments, American Indian tribes and the private sector.

In May, The Associated Press reported that while the corps completed an inventory of levees it maintains or helps fund, there is no such inventory of the thousands of private levees. Officials don’t know how many there are or what shape they are in.

This summer, heavy rains led to record flooding in parts of Iowa and floods in Missouri and Illinois that approached record levels of 1993. Hundreds of private levees were breached or overtopped.

“The flooding this year in the Midwest provided a good reminder to committee members of the importance of the task before us and the importance of getting a handle on our levee system,” committee member Les Harder said during a teleconference with the media.

Another member, Mike Stankiewicz, who is chief of flood control projects for the New York Department of Environment Conservation, said the task of inventorying every levee is daunting. For example, he said California alone has 14,000 miles of levees, and 80 percent of them are privately owned.

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