There are hundreds of federal flood control systems at risk of failing across 37 states in the U.S., leaving millions of people and property endangered.
January 18, 2013

There are hundreds of federal flood control systems at risk of failing across 37 states in the U.S., leaving millions of people and property endangered.


When Hurricane Katrina passed over New Orleans in 2005, more than 50 deficient levees were breaches, killing 1,464 people who were in close proximity to the flood control systems. Another natural disaster could subject hundreds, thousands or even millions more Americans to the same fate if the government doesn’t address the issue.

Inspectors discovered 326 deficient levees across the US, whose likely failures could leave millions of people dead. A breach could demolish homes and cost local governments millions of dollars. By failing to repair the defective structures, the US is choosing to risk the lives of its citizens who are walking on eggshells with their proximity to the flood zones. In its first ever inventory of the nation’s flood control systems, inspectors raised the overdue alarm that hundreds of levees may be unable to regulate water levels and prove useless in face of heavy rains. Such populated cities as Washington DC, Sacramento, Dallas, Cleveland and many others might be flooded at any moment.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has only issued ratings for 58 percent of the 2,487 flood control systems, which means inspectors could still discover hundreds more deficient levees. Many of the earthen levees are crumbling under the effect of trees, shrubs and animal holes. Decaying pipes and pumping stations could also cause the flood control systems downfall, while some of the levees are dangerously close to houses or even have houses built on top of them.

Although the Army Corps has no estimates as to how many people are endangered by the defective systems, the 2,487 federally regulated flood control systems protect about 10 million people. The failures of several hundred levees could therefore impact millions of US residents.

Small towns on river banks and other waterways are especially vulnerable:

“It’s just not right to tell a little town like this to spend millions of dollars that we can’t raise,” Judy Askew, mayor of Brookport, told AP. The small Ohio town has a population of about 1,000 and is built on the banks of the Ohio River, making it particularly vulnerable to flooding if its levees were to give out.

“There is no money available,” Askew said. “There’s no way we could raise even a 25 percent match if [the feds] covered the rest of it.”

A congressional advisory board panel recommended in 2009 that Congress invest some of its budget into levee repairs, but to date, lawmakers have yet to come up with a plan.

Jeffrey Mount, a levee management specialist and founder of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, told the AP: “We’re in a never-ending cycle of flood and rebuild.”

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