WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR LEVEES
Four local drainage districts are responsible for operating the 27-mile levee system along the Columbia River in the Portland metro area and making sure that it complies with federal safety standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). These drainage districts are called Peninsula Drainage District #1 (PEN 1), Peninsula Drainage District #2 (PEN 2), Multnomah County Drainage District #1 (MCDD), and Sandy Drainage Improvement Company (SDIC).
MEETING FEDERAL STANDARDS GIVES US ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE FLOOD INSURANCE
Our levees must be accredited by FEMA for property owners in the historic floodplain to remain eligible for FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, which enables homeowners, business owners and renters to purchase affordable flood insurance.
As long as the levee system is accredited, FEMA will not classify the historic floodplain area behind the levees as a “Special Flood Hazard Area.” This means existing and new developments are not required to build to floodplain standards.
AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA, MEETING FEDERAL STANDARDS GOT A LOT HARDER
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, FEMA and the USACE overhauled their safety standards for the nation’s levees, including making it more challenging and expensive for local levee managers to maintain the levees and prove they meet federal standards.
OUR LEVEES DO NOT MEET FEDERAL SAFETY STANDARDS
As a result of the new federal standards, FEMA’s certification of our local levee system has expired. This means that FEMA can revoke accreditation of our levees and remap the area as a 100-year floodplain at any time.
Being remapped as a 100-year floodplain would have serious consequences
- Mortgage holders would be required to purchase flood insurance at much higher rates
- The cities and county would have to implement new zoning and building codes to elevate buildings above flood levels
- New development behind the levees would be restricted
- The region would lose access to a portion of the available industrial land, which would slow the generation of the middle-income jobs typical to the area
- Property values would fall
- Some businesses would likely relocate
Our levees need upgrades to meet new federal standards
To recertify the levees, the four local drainage districts must prove the infrastructure meets minimum federal safety standards. The technical work required to test the levees to prove they meet federal standards is quite expensive, and the drainage districts could not afford to do that work on their own. The Levee Ready Columbia (LRC) partnership was formed in 2012 to bring together stakeholders to work toward recertifying the levees to maintain federal accreditation and local access to the National Flood Insurance Program.
LRC has completed the first comprehensive geotechnical investigation of the levee system, which identified several areas where the levees do not meet the minimum federal safety standards. These problem areas will need to be fixed before the system can be recertified by FEMA.
Repairing and upgrading the levees will be expensive
We will have to work together as a community to bring the levees up to federal standards and ensure the safety of this important region.