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Levee Certification: Plymouth and Wilkes-Barre-Hanover levee systems​

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is performing a risk assessment for the Plymouth and Wilkes-Barre-Hanover levee systems as requested in October 2019 by the non-federal sponsor for the systems, the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority (LCFPA). This work will be completed using the Planning Assistance to States (PAS) program in accordance with Section 3014(b) of the Water Resources Development Act of 2014. The risk assessment is estimated to take up to two years to complete. The cost of the work will be split evenly between the Corps and the LCFPA, per the PAS authority.

Brief History

In 2014/2015, the Army Corps completed National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) certification reports for both systems that recommended FEMA not accredit the systems (accreditation means the levee is found to reduce risk for a 100-year flood event, and the area behind the levee is likely to not have to pay mandatory flood insurance) due to a lack of freeboard. Freeboard is extra feet of levee above the 100-year flood level of risk reduction, per FEMA regulation. New guidance published in July 2019 through Engineering and Construction Bulleting 2019-11 (Transition Guidance for Levee System Evaluations for the National Flood Insurance Program) directs the Corps to certify levees for FEMA accreditation based on its own risk-based methodology rather than using FEMA's process.

Risk assessments take into account the flood history and current flood risk in the area, the condition of the levee system, and the consequences behind the levee if it were to overtop or break during a flood (population, critical infrastructure, etc.)

Levee Safety Risk Assessments

Following Hurricane Katrina, the obvious need arose for the Corps to better evaluate and communicate the risk associated with living and working behind federally constructed levees across the nation. Risk assessments place levees into risk categories from very high risk to low risk through three components: the likelihood of the levee having flood water on it (frequency of flooding in the area), anticipated performance of the levee during a flood (based on its condition) and consequences if the levee is overtopped by water or breaks (people and property behind the levee). Results from the Risk Assessments (click to view more) help determine how to prioritize limited funding in order to take flood-risk reduction actions.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District Levee Safety Program


The Baltimore District currently has 150 miles of federally-constructed levees in the Corps Levee Safety Program throughout Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, DC.

The Corps Levee Safety Program works to better understand, prioritize, and manage the flood risks associated with levees. The program's mission is to ensure levee systems provide benefit to the Nation by working with sponsors and stakeholders to assess, communicate, and manage the flood risks to people, property, and the environment.

Although some may believe that the Corps manages all levees in the nation, the levees included in the Corps Levee Safety Program represent only about 10 percent of the nation’s levees. Managing risk is a shared responsibility, therefore, the Corps works closely with federal, state, local, and international partners to share information and develop flood risk management solutions.

In 2006, the Corps revamped its Levee Safety Program - inspecting and assessing the 2,500 levee systems in its portfolio, refining its levee inspection program, and revising its levee safety policies and procedures. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA) provided funds to jumpstart levee periodic inspections - a more detailed inspection conducted once every five years.

The results of Corps levee inspections determine continued eligibility for the Levee Safety Program’s Rehabilitation and Inspection Program (RIP), which is the Corps’ authority to provide federal aid in repairing levees damaged by floods or storms. They also provide a better picture of levee conditions - an important step in our shared efforts with state and local authorities to communicate flood risk and make informed decisions on how best to manage it.

The Corps also maintains the National Levee Database (NLD).  The NLD provides information about the location and condition of levees and floodwalls near you, displayed in an easy-to-use map interface, as well as reports, risk summaries, and other records. You can enter a zip code within certain in the "Find Levees Near Me" module and receive a listing of levees nearby, or see a map showing the levee and the leveed area. You may also search by selecting "Baltimore" as the organization when clicking on the "Basic System Reporting" module and selecting other key identifiers, as applicable. You can view the levee data in combination with other Geographic Information Systems data, including real-time data from sources such as stream gauges and weather radar. If you are having issues using the NLD, the NLD Help tab offers tutorials to guide you to the information you are seeking. To view Baltimore District's levee inventory, you may also click the link at the right module.


Baltimore District Levee System Inspections

The Baltimore District regularly inspects levees within the Corps Levee Safety Program inventory to monitor their overall condition, identify potential deficiencies, verify that needed maintenance is taking place, determine eligibility for the federal rehabilitation assistance (in accordance with P.L. 84-99), and provide the public with information about their levees.

Each levee segment receives an overall segment inspection rating of Acceptable, Minimally Acceptable, or Unacceptable. What these ratings mean and how they are determined can be viewed in the levee inspection checklist. Deficiencies in a system may be caused by excessive vegetation on the levees, animal burrows, erosion, sediment in the outflows, etc. Though the ratings do not fully define the risk, they are important because they provide consistency in risk characterization, communication and risk reduction measures and help prioritize federal and local investments.

If a levee system comprises one or more levee segments (if there are different levee sponsors for different parts of the levee) then the overall levee system rating is the lowest of the segment ratings.  This rating for operations and maintenance is based on the levee inspection checklist, which includes 125 specific items dealing with operation and maintenance of levee embankments, floodwalls, interior drainage, pump stations, and channels. The overall segment and system ratings are used to determine if the levee is eligible for federal rehabilitation assistance through the Rehabilitation and Inspection Program (P.L. 84-99).

Levees remain eligible if they are operated and maintained to certain standards by their non-federal sponsors. The Corps now offers sponsors a process through the system-wide improvement  framework (SWIF) to remain temporarily eligible for assistance, while they correct unacceptable deficiencies in their projects over time to transition them to meet Corps standards.

There are two main types of inspections:

·         Routine Inspection is a visual inspection to verify and rate levee system operations and maintenance.  It is typically conducted each year for all levees in the Corps Levee Safety Program. 

·         Periodic Inspection is a comprehensive inspection conducted by a multidisciplinary team led by a professional engineer.  USACE typically conducts this inspection every five years on the federally-authorized levees in the Levee Safety Program.  Baltimore District conducted periodic inspections from 2009 to 2013 using district and contractor teams. 

There are also inspections that are conducted after special circumstances like major flooding or an earthquake.

The Corps shares inspection results with the authority responsible for levee operations and maintenance, also known as the levee sponsor.  The Corps also shares the results with FEMA, to help inform decisions about levee accreditation for flood insurance purposes.

More than 10 million people live or work behind Corps  Levee Safety Program levees, and, in 2011, levee systems contributed to more than $120 billion in damages prevented.  However, with these benefits, comes risks.

It is a priority for the Corps to assess how levees are expected to perform and what the potential consequences of non-performance would be. This places levee systems into a risk-informed context that provides a consistent and credible way to prioritize actions that will help manage the risks associated with owning or operating levees. The Corps uses risk assessments to prioritize life safety risks for its own levee safety activities, and also to provide a basis for communicating risk, so levee sponsors and other stakeholders can make more informed decisions.

Levees do not eliminate risk. Risk factors are always changing, and there are always risk factors we cannot know or control. Risk is managed by routine Levee Safety Program activities, including operations and maintenance, inspections and risk assessments.

The levee sponsor is responsible for operations, maintenance, repair, replacement, and rehabilitation of the levee system, and has the lead role in planning the path forward. The Corps can provide advisory help, technical assistance, or cost-shared construction. Government agencies at every level, as well as the private sector and the public, also have roles to play to ensure levees will perform as designed in the event of high water.

The Corps can support risk reduction activities not only through the Levee Safety Program, but also through the Flood Risk Management Program, Silver Jackets Program, and authorities such as Floodplain Management Services, Planning Assistance to States, Advance Measures, and others.


Contact Info

Corporate Communication Office: 410-962-2809, CENAB-CC@usace.army.mil

Alex Baldowski, Baltimore District Levee Safety Program Manager: 410-962-4771 Alex.M.Baldowski@usace.army.mil

Rob Lewis, 408 Coordinator for project modification requests: 410-962-2708, Robert.L.Lewis@usace.army.mil

Frequently Asked Questions

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How do I know if I live behind a levee?

Baltimore District's levee systems are located on its Levee Safety Program web page. In addition, the National Levee Database houses all of the known levees across the nation and includes risk assessment information and maps of inundation areas. Levees can be searched for by location.

 Does the Corps fix the deficiences it finds along a levee during an inspection?
Operation, maintenance, repair, rehabilitation and replacement activities are local sponsor responsibilities. The local sponsor is the entity who owns and maintains the system. The inspection identifies components and features of the levee system that require monitoring or actions over time, such as erosion, settlement, vegetation and seepage. Subject to the findings and authorities, the local sponsors decides on options to pursue, which may include a project in coordination with the Corps or other partners.
 What can I do to reduce my flood risk?

Flood risk management is a shared responsibility. All entities can contribute toward flood risk management from the federal government to the local levee sponsor to a community-based approach down to the homeowner. Resources for flood risk management are not just monetary; they can also include education and planning. 

There are steps the public should take to reduce risk, such as purchasing flood insurance (even if you are not required, it is a best practice), moving valuables and utilities to higher grounds, waterproofing or floodproofing homes or businesses and knowing the local flood emergency preparedness plan. In addition, develop a personal, family and/or business emergency preparedness plan. In anticipation of a flood, pay close attention to the weather and listen for and follow instructions from local emergency management officials.

You can learn more at FEMA's Flood Smart web page.


 What does an unacceptable rating on a levee from an inspection mean?
It means that one or more items that make up the levee system are rated as unacceptable and may prevent the system from performing as intended during a flood, or a serious deficiency noted in past inspections (which had previously resulted in a minimally acceptable system rating) has not been corrected within the established timeframe.
 What occurs during levee inspections?

There are two regular types of levee system inspections, routine and periodic. A Routine Inspection is an annual visual inspection that verifies proper levee system operation and maintenance by the local levee sponsor who owns and maintains the system. A Periodic Inspection occurs every five years and verifies proper operation and maintenance, and provides a more rigorous level of assessment than the Routine Inspection.

The Periodic Inspection consists of three key components:
1) Collection of existing and available data on operation and maintenance, previous inspection and engineering reports, emergency action plans, and flood-fighting records;
2) A field inspection, similar to a Routine Inspection, but with more detail, performed by a multidisciplinary team and led by a professional engineer; and
3) An inspection report for operation and maintenance that may include additional recommendations of items to monitor, deficiencies to repair, or areas that need further evaluation.

Both Routine and Periodic Inspections incorporate a consistent inspection checklist and result in a levee system rating for operation and maintenance that determines eligibility to receive federal assistance if damaged in a storm to repair to pre-storm condition.

Inspections also provide the opportunity for the Corps to interface with the sponsor and the public on flood risk.