US Army Corps of Engineers
Rock Island District

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Routine inspections, conducted annually, are a critical component of a levee safety program and focus on the operation and maintenance of the project. These annual inspections verify the project sponsor operates and maintains the levee to achieve the maximum benefits the levee was designed to provide.  Routine inspection items include vegetation, encroachments, closure structures, erosion, animal burrows, pump operation, culverts and relief wells.  Routine inspections result in an acceptable, minimally acceptable or unacceptable rating and affect the project’s eligibility for federal rehabilitation assistance under Public Law 84-99 if damaged in a flood or storm event. 

The periodic inspection is the next level in the levee safety program and is conducted by a multidisciplinary team, led by a professional engineer.  It includes a more detailed, comprehensive and consistent evaluation of the condition of the levee system and will be conducted every five years on federally authorized levees in the Corps program.  Activity under the periodic inspection includes routine inspection items; verifies proper operation and maintenance; evaluates operational adequacy, structural stability and, safety of the system; and compares current design and construction criteria with those in place when the levee was built. 

The final periodic inspection rating is based upon the routine inspection items, and will include an acceptable, minimally acceptable or unacceptable rating.  Additional periodic inspection information that will be shared with the project sponsor includes identification of components and features that require monitoring over time.  A levee system that receives an unacceptable rating for the routine inspection items during the periodic inspection may become ineligible for federal rehabilitation assistance if damaged in a flood or storm event.

We must constantly balance the information stakeholders use to make risk-informed decisions about their public safety and safeguarding information that could be used to threaten a project’s security and increase risk of harm to residents.  Knowing and understanding the system is unacceptable or minimally acceptable, without releasing specific vulnerability information in an uncontrolled manner still allows stakeholders and residents to make informed decisions about their personal safety.  Examples include having an emergency evacuation plan and/or purchasing flood insurance to protect economic losses.

Neither the Routine Inspection nor the Periodic Inspection results in a levee system evaluation (certification) for the National Flood Insurance Program, which is required to accredit a levee system for NFIP purposes.  A levee system evaluation for the NFIP focuses only on the 1% flood, which is an insurance standard, not a safety standard (the 1% flood does not eliminate risk).  The USACE Levee Safety Program focuses on projects designed and built for multiple levels of flood events, not just the 1% flood.    

The Corps will provide periodic inspection results to the local project sponsor and FEMA.  FEMA would then make the determination about the effect of the findings on its accreditation for the National Flood Insurance Program.

If the Corps certified or evaluated the levee system it would review the certification in light of the inspection results.

k is the measure of the likelihood that a natural event will take place, the performance of the infrastructure during this event, and the consequences of failure or poor performance - loss of life being of paramount concern.

The Corps has previously conducted periodic inspections on some levees, such as those with potential deficiencies that warranted a more thorough inspection, but recognized it needed to be more consistent with all levee systems within the Corps program.  An effective safety program is a shared responsibility among all levels of government and includes periodic inspections and evaluations, continuous monitoring of levee systems, and builds upon changes and improvements to the state of the art of professional engineering practice.  This allows us to better assess risk and uncertainty and reduce economic and public safety risks. 

The Corps has improved how it inspects and evaluates levees, which enables USACE to better communicate to the local sponsors and the public the overall condition and associated risks of levee systems.  Improvements include a single, newly revised inspection checklist for inspections to be used on all levee systems within Corps authority.

The Corps was set to start periodic inspections, estimating it would inspect approximately 20 percent of its federal inventory per year over the next five years.  ARRA of 2009 provides $90 million and allows the Corps to inspect most of its federal inventory in less than 18 months.

The future inspection cycle for periodic inspections is still under development and depends on future funding levels and the number of inspections completed under ARRA of 2009.  The findings may also affect the follow-up inspection schedule.

The periodic inspection will take the place of the annual routine inspection for that year.  The inspection team will recommend a system rating, acceptable, minimally acceptable or unacceptable, based upon routine inspection items, to the District levee safety officer.  The District levee safety officer will determine the final rating and discuss the inspection results with the project sponsor.  Inspection ratings affect the sponsor’s eligibility for federal rehabilitation assistance if damaged in a flood or storm event.  In addition, the periodic inspection results may also include additional recommendations of items to monitor, identification of deficiencies, or areas that need further evaluation.  This information will be communicated to the sponsor in order to decide next steps.

The American Reinvestment and  Recovery Act of 2009 allows the Corps to accelerate the timetable of these inspections, provide employment for contractors and increase the knowledge about the state of the nation’s critical infrastructure.  The contractors will also provide an independent inspection and evaluation of the levees.

The inspection team will provide a recommended rating and findings and the District levee safety officer is responsible for determining the final inspection rating and communicating the results to the local sponsor.

Operation, maintenance, repair, rehabilitation and replacement activities are local sponsor responsibilities.  The periodic inspection identifies components and features that require monitoring over time, such as erosion, settlement, vegetation and under seepage. The periodic inspection will yield a rating that is based upon the routine inspection items, which are the responsibility of the local sponsor.  Subject to the findings and authorities, the local sponsors will decide on options to pursue, which may include a project in coordination with the Corps or other partners.

Levee systems with I-walls or flood walls will be included in the periodic inspections.

Because of existing authorities, periodic inspections will focus on federally authorized levee systems, or levees built by USACE but operated, maintained, repaired, replaced and rehabilitated by the local levee system sponsor.  These levee systems will be inspected regardless of their current status in the Rehabilitation and Inspection Program.

The Corps has improved how it inspects and evaluates levees, which enables USACE to better communicate with the local sponsors and the public the overall expected operation and maintenance standards, the overall condition of the levee system and the associated risks of the system.  Improvements include a single, newly revised inspection checklist for inspections to be used on all levee systems within Corps authority.  

 

Additionally, our infrastructure is aging.  In some cases, the purposes for which it was designed may no longer be valid, such as a levee built for agricultural purposes that may now have urban development behind it.

It means that one or more items that make up the levee system are rated as unacceptable and would prevent the system from performing as intended, or a serious deficiency noted in past inspections (which had previously resulted in a minimally acceptable system rating) has not been corrected within the established timeframe.  An unacceptable system rating also places the levee system in an “inactive” status under the Corps Rehabilitation and Inspection Program (or PL 84-99 program) and will no longer be eligible for federal rehabilitation funds to repair the levee system if it is damaged in a flood or storm event.