Levees: are they ready for the next flood?

Posted in: Municipal, Water


Levees300x200When historic floods occur, there is only so much we can do to respond in the moment. Levees are one of our first defenses and when they fail, the consequences for communities can be devastating. Recovery can take years and is often very expensive. It is therefore vital that our levees hold up—especially considering our recently expanding flood cycles. Unfortunately, several issues with levees have occurred in recent years. Learning from these failures will help us minimize impacts when floods inevitably occur.

Promoting resiliency and reliability in our critical levee infrastructure systems requires three important steps:

  1. Prepare. A levee can give a false sense of security for people who live behind them. Many residents and business may not fully understand the impact it would have if the levee system fails. It is our responsibility as civil engineers to help communities plan for the worst so that they can more easily bounce back after a flood.
  2. Maintain. Levees have an increased potential for failure over time. If left unchecked, water can erode sand from the foundation. Burrowing animals or overgrown vegetation can cause issues, as can surface erosion. Slopes can collapse, closures rust and pumps wear out. If left unaddressed, all these things create vulnerabilities in the levee protection. Regular maintenance and periodic upgrades are needed so that the levee system can continue to protect infrastructure and community.
  3. Budget. We want a levee that remains reliable, resilient and operable. Local plans and budgets need to be structured so that levee maintenance is carried out on a regular and continual basis. Budgets also need to account for the replacement of more expensive components—pumps, motors, gates, pipes—as they age. Governments and stakeholders need to continually prioritize funds for regular inspection and maintenance of levee systems, so they are ready when they are needed most.

Mead & Hunt’s One Water strategy synchronizes and mobilizes the talents of our professionals working in the hydrologic cycle to provide innovative and effective solutions. This mirrors the national One Water movement, which offers a transformative approach to how we view, value and manage water.

We provide a comprehensive suite of levee engineering services to assist in safeguarding against the hazards of flooding. We deeply understand the responsibility that comes with designing and implementing these crucial systems. When it comes to levees, our goal above all else is to protect the communities we serve.


Karen Wiemeri

About the Author

Karen Wiemeri, P.E., is a project manager in the Water Group. She provides design and technical support for structural flood mitigation measures. Through her work with structural flood mitigation and stormwater management, Karen has an increased interest in more sustainable approaches to flood risk management that can complement existing defenses.

Read more posts by Karen Wiemeri

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