The National Levee Database: A Win for American Citizens and for the Cloud

Learn how GTRI, now Zivaro, built the underlying infrastructure powering the Army Corps of Engineers updated National Levee Database, on AWS.

Levees in the United States: a brief history

The history of levees in America stretches back more than 150 years. Drawn to the nutrient-dense soils of floodplains, American farmers built levees to protect agricultural areas from frequent flooding. And, as the industrial revolution pushed citizens into urban areas, levees were constructed to safeguard major cities and developed regions. Millions of Americans today, work or live near rivers and waterways, dramatically raising the risks associated with flooding. As of this writing, nearly 100,000 levees are dotting the American landscape, providing flood protection for homes, businesses and farmlands.

Early in the 20th century, Congress passed a series of Flood Control acts, first in 1917, then in 1928 and again in 1936. The acts served to bring attention to the importance of flood control in America and solidified the issue as a national priority. Throughout the 20th century, Congress continued to modify flood protections as the country’s population grew, creating a greater need for expanded defense.

Today’s levees are engineered to meet meticulous standards. Guidelines, overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers, specify levees must be built with enough height to withstand a 10-year flood—a flood with a ten percent probability of occurring in a given year. Levee inspectors continually monitor for signs of erosion or other forms of damage that might indicate problems with drainage or the potential for critical failure.

Speaking to The Atlantic in 2015, Tammy L. Conforti, Levee Safety program manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers explained, “Levee systems are complex because their successful performance relies on many different aspects working in conjunction with one another.” Most people don’t think about levees until disaster strikes, but they are an essential component in American flood protection.

The National Levee Database

Initially developed and authorized by Congress in 2007, the National Levee Database provides comprehensive information about America’s levees. The database contains information to help facilitate and connect activities, like flood risk communication, levee system evaluation for the National Flood Insurance Program, risk assessments, floodplain management, and levee system inspections. The database is dynamic and essential, and supports the continuing efforts to add levee data from states, tribes, and federal agencies—but after a decade of use and changes in technology, the database required an overhaul.

“The National Levee Database is a public view into the information that builds an understanding of the benefits and potential risks for the communities in which they exist. The database now contains levee information within the USACE program, FEMA, and other states and federal agencies. We continue to work closely with additional federal, state, and local agencies and tribes to include the information about other levees on a voluntary basis.”—Eric C. Halpin, P.E., USACE deputy dam and levee safety officer

Enter GTRI, now Zivaro

As an Advanced AWS Certified Partner, we’ve been able to witness first-hand the transformational potential of public clouds. Businesses and governmental organizations have undergone near-complete transformations, accelerating positive outcomes, enhancing operational efficiency, and now, helping to provide protection from natural disasters to citizens via the public National Levee Database.

In 2016, we began to collaborate with the Army Corps of Engineers to build the underlying infrastructure for the National Levee Database and continue to provide maintenance and support to ensure optimal performance and efficiency. With a cast of over 30 partners and contractors, all focused on creating a positive final outcome, we’ve been able to build an infrastructure on AWS that not only supports the database, but allows for a dynamic environment that includes attributes of levees and floodwalls relevant to flood protection, design, construction, maintenance, operation, inspection, and repair. The infrastructure is a complete and programmable interface to all National Levee Database functionality.

The exact location and features of levee systems can be seen on a map with real-time data from alternate sources, like weather radar and steam gauges, providing a critical tool for public agencies and individuals, including floodplain managers, citizens who work or live in close proximity to levees, emergency management agencies, and levee system sponsors. All this is possible because of the cloud.

“The NLD contains information about the condition and risk information for approximately 2,000 levee systems (approximately 15,000 miles/mostly levees affiliated with USACE programs). An additional 6,000 levee systems—approximately 15,00miles—have location information, but little to no information about condition and risk. One of the goals of NLD is to include data about levees owned and operated by all other federal agencies, tribes, states, municipalities, levee boards, and private entities.”—Pete Pierce, USACE Public Affairs

The cloud makes it possible for businesses and organizations to streamline processes, enable rapid agility, and foster a culture of innovation across industries and verticals. GTRI, now Zivaro is your partner in the cloud, guiding your business or governmental organization to positive outcomes, and illuminating the cloud journey.

To view the National Levee Database visit: https://levees.sec.usace.army.mil/#/