The federal government is not solely responsible for protecting the United States from floods, an army official told the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works today.
John Paul Woodley, Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said that misconception persists because of the visible reminders of the Army Corps of Engineers' work: levees and other infrastructure to prevent flooding.
"This overlooks the central role played by non-federal levels of government and private citizens in mitigating flood risk through floodplain management," he said.
Woodley's testimony follows the record breaking rains and floods in June that racked the Midwest along the tributaries of the Upper and Middle Mississippi River Basin. Flooding occurred across six states, as swollen waters linked to the Mississippi River overtopped 41 levees in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. In Illinois alone the floods cost $1.3 billion in crop damage, according to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL).
Of the 41levees overtopped, six were federally authorized, but locally maintained and operated; 31 were non-federal; and four were private. Woodley said federal programs and policies to reduce the risk of flooding depend heavily on how well its actions are coordinated with and complement actions at the state and local level.
Traditionally, the Army Corp of Engineers has worked to protect the national economy from flood damage, while leaving it up to state and local governments, even private citizens, to assess and address risks to a particular location.
"Flood response, recovery, and reducing flood risk are a shared responsibility," Woodley said.
The aftermath of the Midwest floods, he said, presents an opportunity for the federal government and its non-federal partners to coordinate and improve short-term emergency response, post-flood recovery, and plan ahead for future floods.
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to establish an Interagency Levee Task Force that will bring together federal, state, and local agencies to repair and restore damaged flood damage reduction systems and devise a common approach to reducing the risk of flooding before the next flood season.
Another endeavor is building a National Levee Database (NLD). While in its infancy, the NLD was nevertheless used during the Midwest floods to judge which federal levees would spill over. The database, however, is incomplete and still needs detailed information on many federal levees, all private levees, and most non-federal levees.
"Many of the levees that overtopped or breached during the Midwest Floods were non-federal and therefore," Woodley explained, "the Corps did not have detailed information which could have been useful while responding to the event."