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Flood Risk Management

Federal involvement in flood risk management began in the early nineteenth century in the Mississippi River Basin when interrelationships between navigation and flood risk management became apparent. As the Nation developed, disastrous floods endangered life and property, as well as transportation. In the Flood Control Act of 1936, Congress extended Federal interest in flood risk management to the entire Nation.

Although efforts of Federal, state, tribal and local interests to reduce flood risk have been substantial, flooding still accounts for 90 percent of all natural disaster damage. Flooding forces several hundred thousand people to be evacuated from homes and work places every year. The purpose of flood risk management is to help prevent or reduce flood risk by using either structural or non-structural means or a combination of the two.

Structural Measures: Structural measures are physical modifications designed to reduce the frequency of damaging levels of flood inundation. Structural flood risk management measures include dams and reservoirs, channel modifications, levees or floodwalls.

Non-Structural Measures: Non-structural measures reduce flood damages without significantly altering the nature or extent of the flooding by changing the use of floodplains or by accommodating existing uses to the flood hazard. Non-structural measures include modifying homes, businesses, and other facilities to reduce flood damages by elevating the structure or removing them from the floodplain. Remaining land can be used for ecosystem restoration, outdoor recreation, or natural open space. Flood warning systems are also considered non-structural measures.

What the Corps of Engineers Can Do:
The Corps of Engineers has been authorized by Congress to perform flood risk management. These services can be performed under two different types of authorities: (1) specifically authorized flood risk management projects, and (2) the Continuing Authorities Program. Each of the authorities requires a study process and a cost share sponsor before implementation of a project.

Specifically Authorized Flood Risk Management Projects:
With specific congressional authorization, the Corps of Engineers can evaluate flood problems, potential solutions, and recommend to Congress whether or not a project should be authorized. This approach is used for larger projects. Typical project features include dams, channel modifications, levees, and other flood control structures.

Study Process, Project Implementation, and Local Partnership:
NOTE: This process only applies to specifically authorized Flood Risk Management Projects and Section 205 Small Flood Risk Management Projects.

Before the Federal Government can participate in implementing a flood risk management project, a planning study must be conducted to determine if the project is feasible (benefits exceed the costs), and environmentally acceptable. Planning studies are typically conducted in two phases — reconnaissance and feasibility.

Reconnaissance Phase:
The reconnaissance phase is fully funded by the Federal Government (limited to $100,000) and is usually completed in less than 12 months. The purposes of the reconnaissance phase are to:

  • Define the problems and opportunities, and to identify potential solutions;
  • Determine whether or not planning should proceed into the feasibility phase based on a preliminary assessment of the Federal interest (costs versus benefits) and environmental impacts of the identified alternatives;
  • Estimate the cost of the feasibility phase;
  • Assess support of the sponsor for continuing into the feasibility study, and potential implementation of a project.

The reconnaissance phase (for a project indicating Federal interest and a willing sponsor) is completed upon the signing of a Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA) by the Corps of Engineers and the project sponsor. The feasibility study cannot be initiated until the FCSA is signed.

Feasibility Phase:
The feasibility phase evaluates the problem and potential solutions in detail. It typically takes 18 months to three years to complete. The feasibility phase is cost shared equally between the Corps of Engineers and the non-Federal sponsor. The non-Federal share of feasibility phase costs may be a combination of cash and in-kind products or services.

The feasibility report results in a recommendation for or against Federal participation in solutions to the water resource problems and opportunities identified in the study. A recommendation for Federal participation may be made if the feasibility phase finds that the project is economically justified (benefits exceed the costs), technically feasible, and environmentally acceptable. A project recommended for implementation can be submitted to Congress for authorization. Certain small flood risk management projects do not require a specific project authorization, and can be constructed under the Continuing Authorities Program.

Project Implementation and Project Partnership:
Before implementation of a project, the sponsor is required to enter into a Project Partnership Agreement to define the responsibilities of each party. The sponsor must normally agree to the following:

  • Provide without cost to the United States all lands, easements, rights-of-way, and disposal areas (LERRDs) necessary for the construction and subsequent operation and maintenance of the project;
  • Provide without cost to the United States all necessary alterations of buildings, utilities, highways, bridges, sewers, and related and special facilities;
  • Hold and save the United States free from damages due to the construction and subsequent maintenance of the project, except damages due to the fault or negligence of the United States or its contractors;
  • Operate and maintain operate the project after completion without cost to the United States;
  • Prevent future encroachment, which might interfere with proper functioning of the project for flood control;
  • Assume responsibility for all costs in excess of applicable Federal cost limitations;
  • Provide guidance and leadership in preventing unwise future development of the floodplain by use of appropriate floodplain management techniques to reduce flood losses;
  • Provide a minimum cash contribution of 5% of the project cost; and,
  • If the value of the sponsor’s contribution above does not equal or exceed 35 percent of the project cost, provide a cash contribution to make the sponsor’s total contribution equal to 35 percent.

Charges for Assistance:
The reconnaissance phase is 100% federally funded up to $100,000. The feasibility phase is cost shared 50/50 with the sponsor and 25% of it can be provided through in-kind services. Design and construction are cost shared at 65% Federal and 35% non-Federal.

How to Request Assistance:
Requests to initiate flood risk management studies or questions related to flood risk management projects should be directed to (309) 794-5885.