Engineering Solutions

Engineering Solutions

Flood risk reduction in the real world

Although the United States Army Corps of Engineers is the largest public engineering, design and construction management agency in the world, most Americans identify it with flood protection. This is particularly true in the Sacramento Region, where the Corps is heavily involved in virtually every major flood control system. We sat down recently with Corps Director of Civil Works Steve Stockton, the agency’s highest ranking civilian, in his Washington, D.C. office to discuss the challenges of flood prevention and the agency’s interest in partnering with the private sector.

Comstock’s: Flood control is a complex and often confusing issue for most people. What is the Corps’s role in flood control management in comparison to local and state responsibilities?

Stockton: First, we’ve changed our terminology from ‘flood control’ to ‘flood risk reduction.’ This came out of the post-Katrina era because what we had down there [in the Gulf] we called a hurricane protection system, but it really wasn’t a complete system and didn’t provide protection against all storms of all sizes. With structural measures like levees, we can protect against the normal and even very large storms and floods, but there’s always a bigger storm out there.

But to your question, risk reduction is a shared responsibility between the federal, state and local governments. It is also a shared responsibility with local land-use planners because in a lot of cases decisions are made that put people in harm’s way, that put people in flood plains, and those are really local decisions. Developers come in and develop property and then transfer that property to owners who are then the ones left with the flood risk. The federal government doesn’t have much of a role in making local land-use decisions. (click to continue reading)

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