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When the Levee Breaks

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Inspectors taking the first-ever inventory of flood control systems overseen by the federal government have found hundreds of structures at risk of failing and endangering people and property in 37 states.  Levees deemed in unacceptable condition span the breadth of America. They are in every region, in cities and towns big and small: Washington, D.C., and Sacramento Calif., Cleveland and Dallas, Augusta, Ga., and Brookport, Ill.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue ratings for a little more than 40 percent of the 2,487 structures, which protect about 10 million people. Of those it has rated, however, 326 levees covering more than 2,000 miles were found in urgent need of repair.  The problems are myriad: earthen walls weakened by trees, shrubs and burrowing animal holes; houses built dangerously close to or even on top of levees; decayed pipes and pumping stations.  In 2009, a congressional advisory panel recommended that Congress invest in levees, create national levee programs and enact policies to increase awareness about the risks of flooding. But Congress has yet to adopt the group’s report. In the meantime, experts are warning that aging and weak flood-control systems will likely face stiffer tests as climate change makes severe storms more common in the coming years.

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