For several days, the midwest and southern U.S. have been pounded by deadly storms, which have brought tornadoes and widespread flooding. Today, a levee in Poplar Bluffs, Missouri, failed in at least four locations, which is “expected to send flood waters from the Black River racing into a populated but rural area of Butler County.” It is currently unclear how many people will be affected by the flooding, but the threat of the levee failing at another location prompted the evacuation of 1,000 people.
The levee’s failure is a tragic reminder of the sorry state of America’s infrastructure. This particular levee failed a federal inspection in 2008, receiving an “unacceptable” rating from the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers. In the U.S. patchwork levee system, many local communities are responsible for levee upkeep, and this particular community couldn’t afford the cost.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers, nearly ten percent of the levees in the country are expected to fail during a flood event. The Civil Corps. of Engineers gave the U.S. levee system a D- grade in 2009, and estimated that it would take a $50 billion investment to get those levees into adequate shape:
During the past 50 years there has been tremendous development on lands protected by levees. Coupled with the fact that many levees have not been well maintained, this burgeoning growth has put people and infrastructure at risk—the perceived safety provided by levees has inadvertently increased flood risks by attracting development to the floodplain. Continued population growth and economic development behind levees is considered by many to be the dominant factor in the national flood risk equation, outpacing the effects of increased chance of flood occurrence and the degradation of levee condition.
Projected federal spending on levees in the next five years is expected to be just $1.13 billion, leaving a $48.87 billion shortfall in needed funding. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “there are 881 counties — or 28 percent of all counties in the United States — that contain levees or other kinds of flood control and protection systems.” More than half of the U.S. population resides in those counties.
Overall, the U.S. has about $2.2 trillion in unaddressed infrastructure needs. The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget that was released earlier this month includes $30 billion “as start-up costs for a national infrastructure bank that would leverage private financing to help rebuild America’s public capital stock,” and budgets for $1.2 trillion in public investment over the next five years.