U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil engineers Elmo Webb and Jonathan Palmer spoke to a Local Emergency Planning Committee in Conway, Arkansas, recently about what caused the near breach of the Faulkner County Levee, known locally as the Lollie Levee.
The Lollie Levee, which the Corps recognizes as one of the better levees in the state was nearly compromised during the May 2019 flood event when a smaller private levee known as the Little Levee failed. According to Webb, the Little Levee was built at a lower elevation than the Lollie, and when the Little breached, it did so just where the two levees came together. The resulting rush of concentrated water flow began to attack the Lollie Levee, reducing its integrity.
"Luckily, all this started happening when the water started receding," Webb said.
After the flood waters receded, the Corp worked quickly to construct a temporary dam at the levee location. While the dam added protection to the levee system, it was not meant to be a permanent fix. That permanent fix was to come as part of a state-wide initiative driven by the Arkansas Governor's Levee Task Force.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson created the levee task force in June of 2019 and quickly put them to work determining the condition of the levee systems throughout the state.
"The members of the task force hit the ground running," Hutchinson told reporters in January. "They visited levees. They interviewed people who live and work along the river. They built an inventory of every mile of levee along the river. They interviewed experts and studied the data. They worked closely with the Corps of Engineers. The Task Force produced a report with seventeen recommendations that are thorough, thoughtful, and a solid guide for the future."
For Faulkner County and the Lollie Levee, that future is one that could be completed in 2020. With a setback levee already in place, the Corps has also completed the engineering and design phase of the repair project for the Lollie. With the landowner's permission, Webb believes that the repairs on the Lollie can be completed in under four months once a contractor is onsite.
While this is good news for Faulkner County, there is still much work to be done. Arkansas boasts more than 1300 miles of levee structures throughout the state, and many were significantly damaged during the 2019 floods. To track the work being completed on the damaged levees, the Little Rock Corps of Engineers has created a Levee Status Page that allows you to view status updates on the damaged levees.