The Arkansas Levee Task Force presented its report to Gov. Asa Hutchinson today.
Its outline had been released earlier in a draft, with recommendations including more reporting to the state from levee districts and consolidation of inactive districts with active districts that are part of the same levee systems. The study group has also focused on the Corps of Engineers’ management of reservoirs — too much for recreational use and not enough for flood control, some contend.
The governor had already won legislative approval for $10 million in spending on levee damage due to recent flooding. But it’s a recurring problem. Levee districts are created to tax property owners protected by levees. But some districts have fallen into disuse and few have the resources necessary to maintain existing levees or make repairs when catastrophic flooding occurs.
The state has historically stayed away from financially supporting levee districts. It’s a public investment in protecting flood-prone private property, much of it agricultural.
The task force studied current levee conditions, potential for funding sources, adequacy of reporting and an analysis of the pertinent law.
It produced 17 recommendations. The report is thorough and thoughtful and attention should be paid, the governor said. He also said the recommendations were balanced as to federal, state and local obligations.
He highlighted a recommendation for an inventory of all river systems with levees. One has been completed for the Arkansas River, which bore the brunt of flooding last year from water released upstream in Oklahoma.
He also touted the consolidation of interconnected levee districts. He said some consolidation has occurred since the last flooding. But he said the decisions should be made locally, not mandated by the state.
He called, too, for improved oversight through a standardized report required of all levee districts. The report should be signed off on by the county judge and county emergency official so they’ll be aware of potential problems.
Then, there’s funding. If there is any state funding, the task force recommended, it should be in the form of incentive grants to districts that would also be expected to provide local financial support. . And the money should finance work that brings levees up to acceptable standards. He said he’d work with the General Assembly on coming up with a fund for such grants. He has no estimate on the need yet, but said Public Safety Secretary Jami Cook would be working on compiling a figure on needs.