Dec 23 2011

Video: How Levees Fail and Fixing Them

This week we have another video from the Sacramento District of the Army Corps of Engineers. In this video, they briefly discuss how levees fail and then how they have approached fixing levees in the Central Valley.


One thing not mentioned in the video is the use of setback levees. A setback levee is essentially a new levee built further back from the main levee.  The old levee reach is then leveled, thereby widening the floodway and providing a wider floodplain, not to mention the newer setback levee being built much more adequately. This is technically not a fix, but it’s an additional solution. These have been used on the Feather, Bear, and Yuba Rivers and there is one setback levee in progress on the Sacramento River on the right bank near the Deep Water Ship Channel in West Sacramento. But these are still rather rare because of a number of reasons: encroachment of the urban corridor, ownership issues, and additional costs.

Bank protection, seepage walls and berms are solid fixes when designed properly, but they are all mere band aids that fix a local levee problem and do not address all possible failure points or system wide issues.  Each year the system experiences a higher than average flow, a larger queue of reaches can build up that need fixing. In the Central Valley a lot of good work has been done, but you’re still looking at small to medium sized rivers that have been channelized and confined by levees built by farmers a hundred years ago. Ideally, you’d love to just put seepage walls and bank protection on all the levees through the urban corridor as well as increase their height but that would take a ridiculous amount of money. Ultimately with levees, there is always a certain amount of calculated risk that you have to live with.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! Thanks for all of your support this year as we have kicked off this blog! Given all that has happened in the U.S. and worldwide in 2011, here’s to a less disastrous 2012!

1 comment

  1. John Prettyman

    I’m the video producer with the public affairs office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing the video and also mentioning setback levees. We wish we could do setback levees in more locations because they are often the preferred solution, but because of developments, encroachment, costs, etc. as you mentioned, it’s not a possibility in many cases. Happy Holidays and thanks for helping educate the public about these important topics!

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