1. What is a levee?
A levee is a manmade structure, usually an earthen embankment, designed and constructed in accordance with sound engineering practices to contain or control the flow of water so as to provide protection from flooding during high water events. The primary purpose of a levee is to provide flood protection from seasonal high waters and is therefore only subject to water loading for periods of a few days or weeks in a year.
2. Who is responsible for building and maintaining the levees in Broward County?
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) designed and built the L–33, L–37, L–35, L–35A and L–36 levees between the developed portion of Broward County and the Everglades in the early 1950's. These levees are referred to collectively as the East Coast Protective Levee (ECPL). Shortly after construction, USACE transferred ownership of the ECPL to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) who is responsible for operation and maintenance of the levee, and providing documentation for certification of the levee.
3. Why is levee safety being addressed as part of FEMA's flood map modernization program?
FEMA is responsible for identifying flood hazards and assessing flood risks in levee- impacted areas. It accomplishes this through engineering studies and mapping projects, including the update of NFIP flood maps through an effort called Flood Map Modernization, or “Map Mod,” which will result in modernized Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs).
In addition, FEMA has established criteria for recognizing levee systems as providing a 1 percent annual chance or greater level of flood protection. However, FEMA does not actually examine or analyze these structures to determine their condition or how they will perform during a given flood event. FEMA relies on levee owners to provide data and documentation to show that a levee system meets NFIP design, operations, and maintenance criteria. If the levee system cannot be shown to meet these regulatory criteria, FEMA will indicate on the maps that the levee system does not provide a 1-percent-annual-chance-flood protection.
In addition to identifying risks in levee-impacted areas, FEMA works in conjunction with Federal, State, local, and professional/technical partners to bolster flood risk mitigation in communities nationwide.
Finally, because there are real risks associated with levee systems, FEMA strongly encourages flood insurance protection, adherence to evacuation procedures, flood proofing, and other protective measures in all levee–impacted areas. FEMA uses notes on the FEMA flood maps to emphasize to property owners the need to consider such measures.
4. Why is it important to understand the risks associated with levees?
There are thousands of miles of levee systems across the United States, impacting millions of people. It is vital that people understand the risks associated with living or working in levee–impacted areas, and the steps they can take to mitigate-or lessen-these risks. No levee system provides full protection from all flood events. Levee systems are designed to provide a specific level of protection, and larger flood events can cause them to fail. Levee systems also decay and deteriorate over time. Regular maintenance and periodic upgrades are needed to ensure that they retain their level of protection and continue to perform as designed. Maintenance can become a serious challenge for a levee owner as a levee system gets older. When levee systems do fail, they often fail catastrophically – the resulting damage, even loss of life, may be more significant than if the levee system had not been built at all.
5. What is a provisionally accredited levee (“PAL”)?
The inability to provide full and prompt documentation of a levee system's status does not necessarily mean that the levee system does not provide the level of protection for which it was designed. It also does not mean that flood maps should show the levee system as providing 1–percent–annual–chance–flood protection.
FEMA has created the Provisionally Accredited Levee (PAL) designation to facilitate the certification and accreditation process for communities with levee systems that are reasonably expected to continue to provide 1–percent–annual–chance–flood protection.
A PAL is a designation for a levee system that FEMA (1) has previously accredited with providing 1–percent–annual–chance–flood protection and (2) is awaiting data and documentation that will show the levee system's compliance with NFIP regulations.
Before FEMA will apply the PAL designation to a levee system, the levee owner must submit a signed letter to FEMA stating that the documentation required by Section 65.10 will be provided by a specific date, not to exceed two years from the date of the PAL. In addition, each community impacted by the levee must submit a separate signed letter acknowledging that the documentation must be submitted by the levee owner by a specific date. Levees with a PAL designation are shows on Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps as providing 1–percent–annual–chance–flood protection, with notes indicating that the levee is only provisionally accredited.
6. What must be done to gain full accreditation for provisionally accredited levees?
In order for a provisionally accredited levee to gain full accreditation, documentation must be submitted by the levee owner to FEMA demonstrating that the levee is in compliance with Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations Section 65.10 (44 CFR 65.10), which includes criteria for levee design, operations plans, maintenance plans, and certification by a registered civil engineer.
7. What does it mean for a levee system to be certified? How is accreditation different?
A levee system is certified if evidence—typically a statement by a licensed professional engineer or Federal agency responsible for levee system design—has been presented showing that the system meets current design, construction, maintenance and operation standards to provide protection from the 1–percent–annual–chance–flood. The levee owner is responsible for ensuring that the levee system is being maintained and operated properly and for providing evidence of certification. If it can be shown that a levee system provides the appropriate level of protection, FEMA will “accredit” the levee system as providing adequate protection on the flood map, and the levee–impacted area will be shown as a moderate–risk area, labeled Zone X (shaded). FEMA accredits levee systems that meet the NFIP criteria and maps areas behind them as having a certain risk level, but does not perform the actual certifications.
8. Who is responsible for complying with section 65.10 of the NFIP regulations?
Compliance with Section 65.10 requirements rests with the levee owner. The South Florida Water Management District is the owner of the levees between developed Broward County and the Everglades. FEMA's responsibility is solely to review the information provided and either credit the levee with providing 1–percent–annual–chance–flood protection on the flood map or, when the levee is shown to be inadequate, to reflect the increased risk of flooding behind that levee to the community and the public.
9. What if a levee meets the PAL requirements?
Levees that meet the PAL requirement (levees presently shown as providing 1–percent–annual–chance–flood protection on the effective flood map) and for which the levee owner cannot readily provide the full data and documentation required by Section 65.10 will contain a note on the map panel landward of the levee to indicate the levee is provisionally accredited and the designation of any existing Zone X (shaded) area is provisional. To meet the PAL requirements, the following conditions must be met:
- Areas must be shown as providing 1–percent–annual–chance–flood protection on the effective flood map.
- Levees must have no known deficiencies.
- Full documentation of the levee's compliance with Section 65.10 requirements is not readily available from the levee owner.
10. How will a PAL be identified on a DFIRM?
To identify the PAL, the following note will be applied at several locations, point to the levee, and be placed landward of the levee on the flood map in or near the Zone X (shaded) area:
WARNING: Provisionally Accredited Levee. For explanation, see the Notes to Users.
The following note will be added to the Notes to Users:
WARNING: This levee, dike, or other structure has been provisionally mapped as providing protection from the 1–percent–annual–chance flood. In order to maintain this accreditation, the levee owner or community is required to submit documentation necessary to comply with 44 CFR Section 65.10 by (__________, _____). Because of the risk of overtopping or failure of the structure, communities should take proper precautions to protect lives and minimize damages in these areas, such as issuing an evacuation plan and encouraging property owners to purchase flood insurance.
11. How do the PAL designations for levee systems affect the communities in which they are provided?
Providing communities with current flood risk information is one of the primary goals of the NFIP and the Map Mod effort. In meeting this goal, the issue of whether levee systems provide 1–percent–annual–chance flood protection needs to be taken into account. However, gathering all data and documentation regarding a levee system's condition can sometimes take months. If the issuance of DFIRMs were delayed until the required data and documentation were compiled and submitted, the existing NFIP flood maps would remain in effect, and more up–to–date flood risk information would not be available for other parts of the community. As such, many residents would not have the most reliable information on which to base decisions regarding their flood risk, including the purchase of flood insurance.
The PAL designation allows the map release and review process to proceed while data and documentation are being gathered. The note on the DFIRM alerts community officials and the public to the levee system's provisional status and associated risks—including the potential risk of failure or overtopping. FEMA updated the levee notes that will appear on the DFIRMs by issuing Procedure Memorandum No. 45—Revisions to Accredited Levee and Provisionally Accredited Levee Notations on May 12, 2008.
12. How does FEMA evaluate levees that show as providing 1-Percent-Annual-Chance Protection on their Digital Flood Insurance Maps (“DFIRMs”)?
FEMA evaluates levees based on documentation submitted by the levee owner. The documentation must demonstrate the levee is in compliance with the criteria in Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations Section 65.10, which includes criteria for levee design, operations plans, maintenance plans, and certification by a registered civil engineer.
13. What happens if a levee system is decertified or cannot be certified? How does this impact the FEMA accreditation and mapping process?
FEMA has a responsibility to the public to identify the risks associated with levee systems that have not been certified, or that can no longer be certified. If a levee system cannot be certified as providing protection from the 1–percent–annual–chance flood, FEMA will not accredit the levee system or will de–accredit a levee system that had previously been shown as providing a 1–percent–annual–chance level of flood protection on an NFIP map. Because FEMA will not accredit the de–certified or uncertified levee systems, these systems will not be depicted on DFIRMs as providing a 1–percent–annual–chance level of protection. FEMA will remap the levee–impacted areas landward of these levee systems as high–risk areas, called Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). Flood insurance is required in SFHAs for any mortgage that is federally backed, regulated, or insured.
It is important to note that neither certification nor accreditation guarantees flood protection. All DFIRM panels showing accredited and provisionally accredited levee systems will carry notes indicating that overtopping or failure of any levee system is possible, and that flood insurance protection, flood proofing, and other protective measures in all levee–impacted areas should be considered.
14. What happens if the PAL expires before the levee owner can prove the levees are in compliance with accreditation requirements?
If the PAL expires before the levee owner can demonstrate the levees are compliant with 44 CFR 65.10, FEMA will de–accredit the levee and begin the map revision process to show the area behind the levees in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), where flood insurance is mandatory for any property with a federally–regulated mortgage. The map revision process takes a minimum of nine months to complete, and may take longer. As part of the revision process, the public is notified that the maps will be changing.
15. When is the deadline for the levee owner to prove the provisionally accredited levees are in compliance with the accreditation requirements?
The deadline for the levee owner to prove the levees are in compliance with the accreditation requirements (the PAL expiration date) varies between levee systems depending on when the PAL letter was submitted by the levee owner and accepted by FEMA.
16. Which areas in Broward County would be affected if these provisionally accredited levees are de–accredited?
The areas affected by the de–accreditation of a provisionally accredited levee are the communities adjacent to the boundary between the Everglades and developed Broward County. The exact areas will be depicted on the updated DFIRMs and on the “Flood Zone Changes Map,” both of which will be available on this Web site after they are released. The DFIRMs will have areas with a note that states, “WARNING: Provisionally Accredited Levee. For explanation, see the Notes to Users”.
17. Do I need flood insurance if I live in an area protected by a provisionally accredited levee?
While mandatory flood insurance requirements may not apply in areas protected by provisionally accredited levees, there is still a risk of flooding. Levees and other flood control structures can only be designed and constructed to provide a degree of protection from flooding; should they overtop or fail, the results could be disastrous. All property owners in areas protected by levees are strongly encouraged to purchase flood insurance.
18. How can I find out if my property is within an area protected by a provisionally accredited levee?
The new Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps will be released sometime in 2011 showing PAL–protected areas. You will be able to find out if your property is located in an area protected by a provisionally accredited levee by entering your address into a Web based application which will be available on this Web site after the maps are released, or by viewing the DFIRMs, which will also be available on this Web site.
19. Why the current interest in levee system safety?
Recent weather events brought the issues of levee system policy, flood hazard management, and flood insurance to the forefront of public debate and discussion. However, as administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), FEMA has long been active and concerned with the protection of life and property in levee–impacted areas. Recognizing the importance of accurate risk assessment for the areas impacted by the thousands of miles of levee systems across the United States, FEMA established detailed requirements—documented in the Code of Federal Regulations at Title 44, Chapter 1, Section 65.10 — to guide the evaluation of levee systems and the mapping of levee–impacted areas on NFIP flood maps in 1986.
To assure standard levee system evaluation and mapping practices, FEMA issued guidance to its contractors and mapping partners. The current guidance is provided in Appendix H of the comprehensive Guidelines and Specifications for Flood Hazard Mapping Partners dated April 2003. FEMA issued Procedure Memorandum 34 (PM 34) — Interim Guidance for Studies Including Levees—on August 22, 2005. PM 34 re–emphasized FEMA's 20-year old levee system evaluation and mapping policy and regulations and provided additional guidance to help communities and other levee owners meet NFIP standards.
20. Where can I go for more general information on levee systems?
Check the levee–dedicated pages on the FEMA Web site located at www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/lv_intro.shtm. On these pages, generally organized by stakeholder group, you can review an array of guidance and informational resources, including:
- Section 65.10 of the NFIP regulations;
- Appendix H of FEMA's Guidelines and Specifications for Flood Hazard Mapping Partners;
- Procedure Memorandum No. 34, Interim Guidance for Studies Including Levees
- Revised Procedure Memorandum No. 43, Guidelines for Identifying Provisionally Accredited Levees
- Guidelines and Specifications for Flood Hazard Mapping Partners
- Procedure Memorandum No. 45,Revisions to Accredited Levee and Provisionally Accredited Levee
- Levee–related Fact Sheets
- Frequently Asked Questions