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Levees are designed to protect against a certain level of flooding. However, levees can and do decay over time, making maintenance a serious challenge. Levees can also be overtopped, or even fail during large floods. Because of the escalating flood risks in areas with levees, FEMA strongly recommends flood insurance for all homeowners in these areas. Homeowners should also develop a disaster plan. To download FEMA's Family Disaster Plan Guide, click here. To learn more about flood risks associated with levees, download this fact sheet: FloodRisksLevee.pdf.

Flood risk from levees

  Levees are man-made structures, usually an earthen embankment, designed and constructed with sound engineering practices to contain, control or divert the flow of water in order to provide protection from temporary flooding. A levee is built parallel to a body of water (most often a river) to protect the lives and properties behind it. There are currently thousands of miles of levees across the country providing some level of protection for millions of people, so it is important for individuals to understand the risks associated with living behind levees. No levee provides full protection from flooding - even the best flood-control structure cannot completely eliminate the risk of flooding. But there are constant efforts being made by a variety of organizations to reduce that risk and keep levees operating efficiently.

How Levees Work, and How they can fail

Who's responsible for levees and what you can do

While the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) operates, maintains and evaluates levees to determine if they meet accreditation requirements, most levees are owned by local communities and flood control districts who must ensure proper operation and maintenance of the levee system as well. The role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to identify and map the flood risk behind the levee based on that evaluation. Even with these collaborative efforts, there is still a risk for levee failure. And if a levee fails, the flood damage can be catastrophic.

So, while property owners may be aware that they live near a levee, they may not be aware of the true risk. Property owners should consider financially protecting their home, business and/or contents with flood insurance. A Preferred Risk Policy provides both building and contents coverage for properties in moderate- to low-risk areas for one low-price.

There is typically a 30-day waiting period from date of purchase before your policy goes into effect, so don't wait until the next heavy rain. For more information about levees and the risk of living near them, contact your local community official to request information about levees in your area or visit:

Live near a levee?

Levees are designed to provide a specific level of protection. but they can fail for a variety of reasons. Find Out More

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For flood insurance rating purposes, a primary residence is a building that will be lived in by the insured or the insured's spouse for at least 80 percent of the 365 days following the policy effective date. If the building will be lived in for less than 80 percent of the policy year, it is considered to be a non-primary residence.

How Can I get Covered?

  • Rate your risk
  • Estimate your premiums
  • Find an agent

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Last Updated: Thursday, 19-May-2016, 3:20 PM (EDT)

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