LITTLE ROCK – Today I would like to talk about the recommendations that the Arkansas Levee Task Force submitted to me this week in its final report.
I created the task force and appointed 27 members in June last year.
The events that led to the need for the task force began in late May. I will never forget that telephone call from an engineer with the Tulsa district of the Corps of Engineers.
The day he called was a sunny, cloudless day. I could see the Arkansas River from the north window of my office, and everything looked normal.
That was about to change. The engineer informed me that they were preparing to release a record amount of water from Oklahoma into the Arkansas River. He said we were going to see river levels we’d never seen before, and that we should prepare for a mandatory evacuation. Little did we know just how bad the flooding would get before it was over.
As the Arkansas River overtopped the levees and poured into towns and farmland along its path, I flew by helicopter from Little Rock to Fort Smith. As I observed the power of the rain-swollen river from the air, I understood like I never had before the critical role of our levees in protecting lives and property. The historic flood of 2019 exposed the weaknesses in our physical levee system. It also exposed short-comings in the maintenance and oversight of our levee system.
I asked the task force to address four objectives:
analyze the condition of the levees;
identify sources and requirements for funding levee repair and maintenance;
study the monitoring and reporting of needed repairs and adequacy of our levees;
and determine whether our laws need to be updated.
The members of the task force hit the ground running. They visited levees. They interviewed people who live and work along the river. They built an inventory of every mile of levee along the river. They interviewed experts and studied the data. They worked closely with the Corps of Engineers.
The Task Force produced a report with seventeen recommendations that are thorough, thoughtful, and a solid guide for the future. The recommendations also have the right balance in terms of federal, state, and local responsibility.
The Task Force recommended that we create an inventory of all levees for each of our river systems, and that we consolidate levee districts that are dependent upon each other.
Another recommendation focused on the need for improved oversight and reporting. And in terms of funding, the Task Force recognized the need for a state grant program to support our levy districts.
This report is a necessary step in shoring up the banks of the Arkansas and our other rivers. Now we must act on the recommendations as quickly as possible. We can’t put off the work until another flood puts us to the test.