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National Levee Safety

These web pages present a history of the work of the National Committee on Levee Safety, including a record of meetings, workshops, information sessions, and testimony before Congress.

Stakeholder Involvement Past and Future

Overview

The purpose of this paper is to describe the stakeholder involvement process that the National Committee on Levee Safety (NCLS) has used to date to get input from external parties, how the NCLS has used that input (generally), and future plans for outreach and collaboration. The NCLS undertook an ambitious and deliberate process to bring input from stakeholders into the scope and content of Recommendations for a National Levee Safety Program: A Report to Congress from the National Committee on Levee Safety, January 2009. NCLS members also recognized that the three-month period of time under which the Committee met and developed this report did not allow for inclusion of all desired stakeholders or in-depth analysis and consideration of all input received. Stakeholder education, awareness building, and input gathering continue today.

National Committee Membership is a Microcosm of Stakeholder Involvement

The makeup of the NCLS is, in and of itself, a form of stakeholder involvement. It was understood by Congress that all levels of government and a wide variety of interests would need to be considered in the development of a National Levee Safety Program. As a result, they directed that the composition of the NCLS include representation from federal, state, tribal, and local governments, as well as the private sector (33 USC 3302. SEC.9003). In addition to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as representatives, the other 14 members of the NCLS were to be appointed by the Secretary of the Army and include:

  • Eight representatives of state levee safety agencies, one from each of the eight civil works divisions of the Corps of Engineers.
  • Two representatives of the private sector who have expertise in levee safety.
  • Two representatives of local and regional governmental agencies who have expertise in levee safety.
  • Two representatives of Indian tribes who have expertise in levee safety. (Due to the rapid timeframe in which the Report to Congress was developed, the government was unable to secure tribal representatives to serve on the Committee. However, representatives from two tribes (Seminole Tribe of Florida and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) participated as Review Team members.)

The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works at the time, John Paul Woodley, designed and oversaw the selection process of members by conducting an open solicitation process, nominating individuals to fill each of the slots provided by Congress. Selections were based on criteria that focused on professional expertise, technical background, leadership, and communication skills. NCLS members were charged to bring forth their individual expertise and judgment and to think at a national level, but the perspective, experience, and talents drawn from their particular governmental agencies and businesses proved invaluable in incorporating issues from all levels of government and the private sector in NCLS deliberations.

Stakeholder Input Activities During Development of Recommendations to Congress (October 2008 — December 2008)

During the course of a three-month report development process (September 2008 to December 2008), the NCLS sought stakeholder input and expert advice using a variety of approaches. An official Review Team was established and consulted several times during the process. To inform their deliberations and shed light on particular topics and questions, the NCLS solicited presentations from two dozen individuals and organizations who are expert in the fields of communication, public policy, program management, dam safety, flood risk management, water resources management, and other related specialty areas. The Committee members visited levee-damaged areas, levees, and appurtenant works in New Orleans, and gained additional experience in levee reliability, public education, evacuation, and other risk reduction activities.

The National Committee on Levee Safety Review Team

Simultaneous to the selection and appointment of the members of the NCLS, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works established a Review Team, whose membership was broader than the NCLS as a whole and included other federal agencies; professional, technical, and engineering associations; environmental nonprofits; tribes; and others. Membership on the Review Team was largely drawn from the nominations received through the NCLS selection process. Review Team members were asked to participate in two meetings in the three-month report development process.

  • October 30, 2008. The Review Team met shortly after the NCLS convened to provide feedback on NCLS interpretation of Congressional goals, scope of the effort, technical definitions, sequence of activities, anticipated roles and responsibilities related to levee safety activities, and as a check on early NCLS interpretations and assumptions. In addition to the verbal comments at the meeting, the NCLS received more than 500 written comments from 22 organizations.
  • December 12, 2008. The Review Team met again to review the vision of a National Levee Safety Program, the scope and relationship of the report's recommendations to the larger issue of flood risk and floodplain management, a set of draft recommendations (some were detailed, others more conceptual), and the overall report outline and appendices. The NCLS received more than 600 individual comments from 27 organizations.

Review Team Organizations

  • American Council of Engineering Companies
  • American Public Works Association
  • American Rivers
  • American Society of Civil Engineers
  • American Water Resources Association
  • Association of State Dam Safety Officials
  • Association of State Floodplain Managers
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Central Valley Flood Protection Board
  • City of Dallas, Texas
  • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • Flood Control District of Maricopa County
  • GEI Consultants
  • Harris County Flood Control District (Texas)
  • HDR, Inc.
  • Hidalgo County Drainage District (Texas)
  • HNTB
  • Illinois Department of Natural Resources
  • Institute for Business and Home Safety
  • International Boundary and Water Commission
  • Kansas Department of Agriculture
  • Klinger and Associates, P.C.
  • Maryland Department of Environment, Dam Safety Division
  • Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
  • Mississippi River Commission
  • National Academies
  • National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies
  • National Emergency Management Association
  • National Ocean Service
  • National Park Service
  • National Waterways
  • National Weather Service
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • Natural Resource Conservation Service
  • Office of Management and Budget, Water and Power Branch
  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water
  • Oregon Water Resources Department
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
  • Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (California)
  • Seminole Tribe of Florida
  • Small Business Administration
  • State of Louisiana
  • Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, Safe Dams Section
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Terracon Consultants, Inc.
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • US Army Corps of Engineers
  • US Bureau of Reclamation
  • US Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • US Department of the Interior
  • US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration
  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • US Geological Survey
  • United States Society on Dams

Public Webinar

On December 16, 2008, the NCLS conducted a two-hour virtual stakeholder meeting to share preliminary recommendations and seek high-level input. The webinar was advertised through a USACE media roundtable, professional associations, and nonprofit networks. Approximately 320 individuals participated and 22 comments and questions were received electronically.

National Committee on Levee Safety Website Kept Stakeholders Informed

It should be noted that during the three-month process to develop the report and recommendations for a National Levee Safety Program, the NCLS maintained a website where presentations, meeting minutes, and draft documents were posted. This allowed interested stakeholders and the public to follow the deliberations of the NCLS through its development process and view the Report to Congress, posted on January 16, 2009. The NCLS continues to maintain a website and provide updated information on the website as the process progresses. The website can be found at http://www.leveesafety.org/

Incorporating Stakeholder and Expert Input into Recommendations to Congress

On January 15, 2009, the NCLS delivered a draft report, Recommendations for a National Levee Safety Program: A Report to Congress from the National Committee on Levee Safety to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, who transmitted the report to the Office of Management and Budget for their review. Within the constraints of the schedule, the NCLS reviewed, analyzed, and incorporated the content, spirit, and tone of comments received. Workgroups refining particular recommendations reviewed input solicited for those recommendations. Other input assisted the NCLS in understanding the programs, drivers, and challenges and assisted the Committee in placing the National Levee Safety Program in context. Where topics were deemed by the NCLS to be important, but time did not allow for necessary research and recommendation development, the NCLS identified key questions and issues in the report and made suggestions regarding who should address them upon creation of a National Levee Safety Program. The NCLS is continuing to mine this rich data set and has used it to develop additional stakeholder education and involvement activities intended to further inform Congress and the Administration regarding the need and substance of a National Levee Safety Program.

Stakeholder Activities Since the Report Was Delivered to Congress

In the year since the Recommendations for a National Levee Safety Program: A Report to Congress from the National Committee on Levee Safety, the NCLS has been at work exploring topic areas important to the implementation of a national program and speaking with stakeholders about the need for a National Levee Safety Program and the specific recommendations.

Congressional Hearing on Report to Congress

On May 19, 2009, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on the report. The NCLS Vice-Chair, Eric Halpin, summarized the recommendations and their rationale on behalf of the NCLS. Representatives from the following organizations also testified: American Council of Engineering Companies, American Public Works Association, Association of State Floodplain Managers, National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies, and the National Wildlife Federation. Their testimony can be found at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ncls.

Presentations to Stakeholder Groups

In 2009, members of the NCLS made 20 presentations to a variety of associations, professional membership groups, and nonprofits interested in the development of a Levee Safety Program. The purpose of these presentations was to explain the state of levees in the United States, the need for a consistent, integrated national approach to levee safety, and seek informal feedback on the recommendations outlined in the Report to Congress.

The Way Forward: Additional Stakeholder Education, Input, and Engagements

The NCLS continues to meet and further develop and detail its 20 recommendations in order to provide Congress additional information on: 1) the state of levees in the United States; 2) more tightly framed and further detailed recommendations; 3) better understanding of advantages and challenges of a National Levee Safety Program; and 4) refined information on program costs and benefits. The nonfederal members of the NCLS have provided for Congress a proposed legislative framework as a complementary document to the report which highlights the recommendations that would require or benefit from legislation or other Congressional action (February 17, 2010). The NCLS continues to analyze and consider stakeholder input received to date as it designs and conducts these activities.

NCLS Communication and Stakeholder Involvement Plan

While significant stakeholder input was considered in the development of the Report to Congress, the NCLS believes that an even broader set of interests needs to be included in the development of a National Levee Safety Program and engaged in its implementation. As such, the NCLS developed a Communication and Stakeholder Involvement Plan that outlines intended activities

  • Raise the level of awareness of the state of levees in the United States and the recommendations of the National Levee Safety Committee; and
  • Conduct targeted stakeholder input to inform the way forward for the NCLS, Congress, and the Administration.

This begins the work of an important recommendation from the NCLS to develop a comprehensive national public involvement and education/awareness program to increase public understanding of the role and limitations of levees, raise awareness of national and state levee safety programs, and effectively communicate risks associated with living in leveed areas. These stakeholder engagement activities will focus on stakeholders who have already expressed an interest in levee safety, but also members of the public that live and work in leveed areas and underrepresented stakeholder groups. The groundwork being conducted by the NCLS will develop the foundation of a National Levee Safety Program by providing public forums to discuss the National Levee Safety Program, promoting consistency of terminology, messages and approaches across the federal agencies, and reach out to a variety of stakeholders and experts to further refine program aspects.

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View of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. August 2005.

View of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. August 2005.

A Broader Floodplain Management Approach

One of the consistent comments that the NCLS received, and one with which they wrestled themselves, was how does a levee safety program operate within a broader floodplain management approach? Stakeholder comments were instrumental in broadening the focus of the NCLS to include crucial risk reduction activities on lands and with populations living in leveed areas. Stakeholder comments also assisted the NCLS in articulating the need for strong connections with floodplain management, emergency management, and environmental protection.

NCLS took as a starting point the provisions in the National Levee Safety Act of 2007, which outlined the goals of a proposed National Levee Safety Program.

  1. Ensuring the protection of human life and property by levees through the development of technologically, economically, socially, and environmentally feasible programs and procedures for hazard reduction and mitigation relating to levees.
  2. Encouraging use of the best available engineering policies and procedures for levee site investigation, design, construction, operation and maintenance, and emergency preparedness.
  3. Encouraging the establishment and implementation of an effective national levee safety program that engages qualified states in implementation, including identification of incentives and disincentives for state levee safety programs.
  4. Ensuring that levees are operated and maintained in accordance with appropriate and protective standards by conducting an inventory and inspection of levees.
  5. Developing and supporting public education and awareness projects to increase public acceptance and support of state and national levee safety programs.
  6. Building public awareness of the residual risks associated with living in levee-protected areas.
  7. Developing technical assistance materials for state and national levee safety programs.
  8. Developing methods to provide technical assistance relating to levee safety to nonfederal entities.
  9. Developing technical assistance materials, seminars, and guidelines relating to the physical integrity of levees in the United States.

Combining Dam and Levee Safety Programs:

One question that was asked of the Review Committee was whether the National Levee Safety Program should be combined with dam safety programs that exist at the national and state level. Opinions were evenly split on this issue and the NCLS decided that they did not have enough information to move forward with any recommendation regarding combining the two programs or keeping them separate.

National Committee on Levee Safety Recommendation 9:

Develop a Comprehensive National Public Involvement and Education/Awareness Campaign to Communicate Risk and Chance Behavior in Leveed Areas is an essential element of levee safety by improving public understanding of the role of levees, associated risks, and individual responsibilities to empower people to make risk-informed choices.