Frequently Asked Questions

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 must be done to gain accreditation for levees?
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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Which areas in Broward County would be affected if these accredited levees are de–accredited?
The areas affected by the de–accreditation of an 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, "Accredited Levee Notes to Users”.

11. Do I need flood insurance if I live in an area protected by an accredited levee?
While mandatory flood insurance requirements may not apply in areas protected by 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.

12. How can I find out if my property is within an area protected by an accredited levee?
You will be able to find out if your property is located in an area protected by an accredited levee by entering your address into a Web based application which will be available on this Web site. 

13. 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.

14. Where can I go for more general information on levee systems?
Check the levee–dedicated pages on the FEMA site.