Arkansas panel issues recommendations on state’s levees

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FILE – In this Friday, May 31, 2019, file aerial image provided by Yell County Sheriff’s Department water rushes through the levee along the Arkansas River in Dardanelle, Ark. An Arkansas panel formed after historic flooding last year on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020 called for increased oversight of the state’s levees, consolidation of some levee districts and state grants to make improvements. The Arkansas Levee Task Force presented its final report on the state’s system of 92 levees. Gov. Asa Hutchinson formed the panel in 2019 after flooding along the Arkansas River that affected several levees. (Yell County Sheriff’s Department via AP, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas panel formed after historic flooding last year released a report on Tuesday recommending increased oversight of the state’s levees, consolidation of some levee districts and state grants to fund improvements.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the Arkansas Levee Task Force in 2019 after flooding along the Arkansas River that affected several of the state’s 92 levees, including one that was breached. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a large dam to control the river flow after intense rain in Kansas and Oklahoma strained aging dams and levees.

“I believe this is one of the good things that came out of a terrible circumstance with the 2019 flood,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve been able to focus on this and what I believe will be a lasting impact for the state of Arkansas in a positive way in strengthening our levee system.”

The panel called for districts to file standardized levee reports that county officials must sign off on to show they are aware of levee structural issues. Under that recommendation, the state Department of Emergency Management will review the reports and compile an annual summary of threat vulnerabilities.

The panel also recommended the consolidation of levee districts that are dependent upon each other, but said decisions on consolidation should be made at the local level.

Additional financial assistance provided by the state should encourage districts to bring levees up to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standards, the panel said. Hutchinson said he supports such a grant program, and will work with lawmakers to determine how much funding it needs.

The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission plans to meet later this month to award most of the $10 million Hutchinson asked lawmakers to set aside for improvements to the state’s levee system.

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