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A levee (/ˈlɛvi/),[1][2] dike, dyke, embankment, floodbank or stopbank is an elongated naturally occurring ridge or artificially constructed fill or wall, which regulates water levels. It is usually earthen and often parallel to the course of a river in its floodplain or along low-lying coastlines.[3]

Etymology


Speakers of American English (notably in the Midwest and Deep South), use the word levee, from the French word levée (from the feminine past participle of the French verb lever, "to raise"). It originated in New Orleans a few years after the city's founding in 1718 and was later adopted by English speakers.[4] The name derives from the trait of the levee's ridges being raised higher than both the channel and the surrounding floodplains.

The modern word dike or dyke most likely derives from the Dutch word dijk, with the construction of dikes in Frisia (now part of the Netherlands and Germany) well attested as early as the 11th century. The 126 kilometres (78 mi) long Westfriese Omringdijk, completed by 1250, formed by connecting existing older dikes. The Roman chronicler Tacitus mentions that the rebellious Batavi pierced dikes to flood their land and to protect their retreat (AD 70).[5] The word dijk originally indicated both the trench and the bank. It closely parallels the English verb to dig.[6]

In Anglo-Saxon, the word dic already existed and was pronounced as dick in northern England and as ditch in the south. Similar to Dutch, the English origins of the word lie in digging a trench and forming the upcast soil into a bank alongside it. This practice has meant that the name may be given to either the excavation or to the bank. Thus Offa's Dyke is a combined structure and Car Dyke is a trench - though it once had raised banks as well. In the midlands and north of England, and in the United States, a dike is what a ditch is in the south, a property-boundary marker or small drainage-channel. Where it carries a stream, it may be called a running dike as in Rippingale Running Dike, which leads water from the catchwater drain, Car Dyke, to the South Forty Foot Drain in Lincolnshire (TF1427). The Weir Dike is a soak dike in Bourne North Fen, near Twenty and alongside the River Glen, Lincolnshire. In the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, a dyke may be a drainage ditch or a narrow artificial channel off a river or broad for access or mooring, some longer dykes being named, e.g. Candle Dyke.[7]

In parts of Britain, particularly Scotland, a dyke may be a field wall, generally made with dry stone.

Uses


The main purpose of artificial levees is to prevent flooding of the adjoining countryside and to slow natural course changes in a waterway to provide reliable shipping lanes for maritime commerce over time; they also confine the flow of the river, resulting in higher and faster water flow. Levees can be mainly found along the sea, where dunes are not strong enough, along rivers for protection against high-floods, along lakes or along polders. Furthermore, levees have been built for the purpose of empoldering, or as a boundary for an inundation area. The latter can be a controlled inundation by the military or a measure to prevent inundation of a larger area surrounded by levees. Levees have also been built as field boundaries and as military defences. More on this type of levee can be found in the article on dry-stone walls.

Levees can be permanent earthworks or emergency constructions (often of sandbags) built hastily in a flood emergency. When such an emergency bank is added on top of an existing levee it is known as a cradge.

Some of the earliest levees were constructed by the Indus Valley Civilization (in Pakistan and North India from circa 2600 BC) on which the agrarian life of the Harappan peoples depended.[8] Levees were also constructed over 3,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, where a system of levees was built along the left bank of the River Nile for more than 600 miles (970 km), stretching from modern Aswan to the Nile Delta on the shores of the Mediterranean. The Mesopotamian civilizations and ancient China also built large levee systems.[9] Because a levee is only as strong as its weakest point, the height and standards of construction have to be consistent along its length. Some authorities have argued that this requires a strong governing authority to guide the work, and may have been a catalyst for the development of systems of governance in early civilizations. However, others point to evidence of large scale water-control earthen works such as canals and/or levees dating from before King Scorpion in Predynastic Egypt, during which governance was far less centralized.

Another example of a historical levee that protected the growing city-state of Mēxihco-Tenōchtitlan and the neighbouring city of Tlatelōlco, was constructed during the early 1400s, under the supervision of the tlahtoani of the altepetl Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl.

Levees are usually built by piling earth on a cleared, level surface.

Artificial levees require substantial engineering.

Prominent levee systems have been built along the Mississippi River and Sacramento River in the United States, and the Po, Rhine, Meuse River, Rhône, Loire, Vistula, the delta formed by the Rhine, Maas/Meuse and Scheldt in the Netherlands and the Danube in Europe. During the Chinese Warring States period, the Dujiangyan irrigation system was built by the Qin as a water conservation and flood control project. The system's infrastructure is located on the Minjiang (Chinese: 岷江; pinyin: Mínjiāng), which is the longest tributary of the Chang Jiang, in Sichuan, China.

The Mississippi levee system represents one of the largest such systems found anywhere in the world.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recommends and supports Cellular Confinement technology (geocells) as a best management practice.[11] Particular attention is given to the matter of surface erosion, overtopping prevention and protection of levee crest and downstream slope.

Artificial levees can lead to an elevation of the natural river bed over time; whether this happens or not and how fast, depends on different factors, one of them being the amount and type of the bed load of a river. Alluvial rivers with intense accumulations of sediment tend to this behavior. Examples of rivers where artificial levees led to an elevation of the river bed, even up to a point where the river bed is higher than the adjacent ground surface behind the levees, are found for the Yellow River in China and the Mississippi in the USA.

Levees are very common on the marshlands bordering the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada. The Acadians who settled the area can be credited with the original construction of many of the levees in the area, created for the purpose of farming the fertile tidal marshlands. These levees are referred to as dykes. They are constructed with hinged sluice gates that open on the falling tide to drain freshwater from the agricultural marshlands, and close on the rising tide to prevent seawater from entering behind the dyke. These sluice gates are called "aboiteaux". In the Lower Mainland around the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, there are levees (known locally as dikes, and also referred to as "the sea wall") to protect low-lying land in the Fraser River delta, particularly the city of Richmond on Lulu Island. There are also dikes to protect other locations which have flooded in the past, such as the Pitt Polder, land adjacent to the Pitt River and other tributary rivers.

Coastal flood prevention levees are also common along the inland coastline behind the Wadden Sea, an area devastated by many historic floods.[12] Thus the peoples and governments have erected increasingly large and complex flood protection levee systems to stop the sea even during storm floods. The biggest of these are of course the huge levees in the Netherlands, which have gone beyond just defending against floods, as they have aggressively taken back land that is below mean sea level.[13]

These typically man-made hydraulic structures are situated to protect against erosion.

Important cities in Japan (Tokyo and Osaka) developed a new flood protection known as Super levee.

Natural examples


Natural levees commonly form around lowland rivers and creeks without human intervention.

Deposition of levees is a natural consequence of the flooding of meandering rivers which carry high proportions of suspended sediment in the form of fine sands, silts, and muds. Because the carrying capacity of a river depends in part on its depth, the sediment in the water which is over the flooded banks of the channel is no longer capable of keeping the same amount of fine sediments in suspension as the main thalweg. The extra fine sediments thus settle out quickly on the parts of the floodplain nearest to the channel. Over a significant number of floods, this will eventually result in the building up of ridges in these positions, and reducing the likelihood of further floods and episodes of levee building.

If aggradation continues to occur in the main channel, this will make levee overtopping more likely again, and the levees can continue to build up.

Levees are common in any river with a high suspended sediment fraction, and thus are intimately associated with meandering channels, which also are more likely to occur where a river carries large fractions of suspended sediment. For similar reasons, they are also common in tidal creeks, where tides bring in large amounts of coastal silts and muds. High spring tides will cause flooding, and result in the building up of levees.

Failures and breaches


Both natural and man-made levees can fail in a number of ways.

Sometimes levees are said to fail when water overtops the crest of the levee. This will cause flooding on the floodplains, but because it does not damage the levee, it has fewer consequences for future flooding.

Among various failure mechanisms that cause levee breaches, soil erosion is found to be one of the most important factors. Predicting soil erosion and scour generation when overtopping happens is important in order to design stable levee and floodwalls. There have been numerous studies to investigate the erodibility of soils. Briaud et al. (2008) [16] used Erosion Function Apparatus (EFA) test to measure the erodibility of the soils and afterwards by using Chen 3D software, numerical simulations were performed on the levee to find out the velocity vectors in the overtopping water and the generated scour when the overtopping water impinges the levee. By analyzing the results from EFA test, an erosion chart to categorize erodibility of the soils was developed. Hughes and Nadal in 2009 [17] studied the effect of combination of wave overtopping and storm surge overflow on the erosion and scour generation in levees. The study included hydraulic parameters and flow characteristics such as flow thickness, wave intervals, surge level above levee crown in analyzing scour development. According to the laboratory tests, empirical correlations related to average overtopping discharge were derived to analyze the resistance of levee against erosion. These equations could only fit to the situation similar to the experimental tests while they can give a reasonable estimation if applied to other conditions.

Osouli et al. (2014) and Karimpour et al. (2015) conducted lab scale physical modeling of levees to evaluate score characterization of different levees due to floodwall overtopping.[18][19]

Another approach applied to prevent levee failures is electrical resistivity tomography (ERT). This non-destructive geophysical method can detect in advance critical saturation areas in embankments. ERT can thus be used in monitoring of seepage phenomena in earth structures and act as an early warning system, e.g. in critical parts of levees or embankments.[20]

See also


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