The Basics of Levee Certification: What FEMA Requires and How to Begin the Process
FIRMs Under Review With a Focus on Levees
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that levees are not created equally, nor do they all age gracefully. Prior to the breach of the Mississippi River levee in New Orleans, flood delineations shown on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) indicated that the areas behind levees were protected – that is, outside the flood limits of the base flood. Motivated by the impacts of Hurricane Katrina and other storm events throughout the U.S., FEMA is now reviewing and revising (as appropriate) FIRMs developed as part of the agency’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), with a particular focus on confirming that levee systems have been certified by a professional engineer. Other levee-related issues that may trigger FEMA to review a FIRM include:
- A periodic inspection by the USACE
- Growth within a levee-protected area
- Construction of a new levee
- A long list of Letter of Map Revisions within a levee district
New Rules, New Costs for Owners, Operators
Since FEMA now requires a professional engineer to certify that a levee system will function as a barrier to the base flood in order for the agency to accredit a given levee system – owners, operators and other responsible parties are now forced to navigate the newly-mandated certification process and cover the costs of certifying their levee systems, depending on their levee system type. There are several different types of levee systems, including: federal levees; federally built but locally operated and maintained levees; and locally built and locally operated and maintained levees. For any levee system that is locally operated and maintained (such as by a levee or drainage district), the local entity is responsibile for paying the cost for certification. This distinction applies to a significant number of levee systems in the U.S., which leaves many levee system owners, operators and other responsible parties weighing their options and seeking assistance.
No Certification, Become High-Risk
Not certifying your levee system can result in FEMA delineating an area previously mapped as protected from the base flood as now unprotected and within a flood zone - these areas will then be considered high-risk “Special Flood Hazard Areas” by FEMA, which can drastically increase a community’s flood insurance costs, among other things.
Where To Begin
The first step in the certification process for an existing levee is attempt to obtain a provisionally accredited levee (PAL) designation from FEMA, which applies to a levee system that has been previously accredited but is currently undergoing review. A PAL designation will then implement a two-year time period within which the levee owner can obtain full certification.
Let Us Assist You
FNI is available and well-prepared to guide you through the levee certification and FEMA accredidation process. We are closely tracking the evolution of levee design, maintenance, certification, and regulatory involvement by FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and state programs. We can provide support with these regulatory programs and help bring managed compliance to your levee program. We understand the need to manage your budgets while protecting your citizens, and with minimal planning, we can help represent levee owners to FEMA, USACE, local stakeholders and lead them through the certification process. Please visit www.freese.com/locations to contact us for more information.