Everyone plays a role in reducing the risk of flooding from federal government agencies to local jurisdictions to members of the community like you. In our country, the responsibility for levee safety and flood risk management is a shared responsibility between multiple federal, state, and local government agencies with a complex set of programs and authorities. For our local levee system, the responsibilities break down like this.
At the federal level, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for mapping flood risk and managing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a federal program created by Congress that helps reduce the risk of flooding in low-lying areas by encouraging communities to adopt specific floodplain management regulations and providing affordable flood insurance to local property owners, renters, and businesses.
To administer the NFIP, FEMA creates and updates Flood Insurance Rate Maps, which identify flood hazard areas and are used as the basis for flood insurance rates. Levees can be added to the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) if the community can demonstrate that the levees meet a specific set of safety standards (this process is called certification and accreditation). When levees are not accredited by FEMA, the adjacent area is mapped as if the levee did not exist. This means that the flood-prone area behind the levee doesn’t appear to have any level of protection, which affects flood insurance rates and development standards. Once an accredited levee system is placed on the FIRM, the risk lowers, which means flood insurance is more affordable for local property owners and strict floodplain regulations for new development isn’t required.
FEMA works closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to oversee the nation’s flood control infrastructure. USACE completes inspections of the nation’s levee systems, which contribute to risk assessments and support the levee accreditation decisions made by FEMA. For levees to be accredited by FEMA, the local sponsor of the levee system must participate in the USACE Rehabilitation & Inspection Program (RIP), which provides local levee sponsors with federal assistance in fighting floods and repairing flood control infrastructure that has been damaged during a flood. In exchange for this support, the local sponsors must submit to regular inspections and meeting a specific set of USACE established standards.
For the local levee system, the four cities in the managed floodplain (Portland, Gresham, Fairview, and Troutdale) are considered the “mapholders” for FEMA. This means that they work with FEMA to manage the local Flood Insurance Rate Maps and adopt and enforce various specific floodplain management regulations. As participants in the National Flood Insurance Program, the cities are also responsible for ensuring that the local levees maintain FEMA accreditation. They also provide critical emergency response services, and coordinate with other jurisdictions, during a flood emergency.
The four local drainage districts serve as the “local sponsors” of the levee system for the US Army Corps of Engineers. This means that the drainage districts are responsible for operating and maintaining the levees to specific standards laid out by FEMA. The drainage districts also respond to flood emergencies along the Columbia River and Columbia Slough with a focus on operating, maintaining, inspecting and repairing the local levee system and informing the public of risks.
Individuals who live, work, or play in a managed floodplain should understand their risk, take action to reduce the risk and know what to do if impacted by a flood. For more information about preparing for a flood, please visit our flood preparedness page here.