Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geography and Environmental Resources

First Advisor

Remo, Jonathan


Recent inspections conducted on levee safety in the U.S. that participate in the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Levee Safety Program under Public-Law 84-99 have shown that the overwhelming majority (>95%) of these levees have at least some deficiency associated with them, and many being identified as having an unacceptable safety rating (≈30%). In the U.S., many levees were constructed using funding from the federal government, but the responsibility of operation and maintenance of the levees were turned over to local government bodies. Given the local funding of levee maintenance, the socioeconomic characteristics of these levee-protected communities may be useful in identifying which communities may not have the economic, social, and / or political capital to maintain their levees to an acceptable safety standard. Using the lens of socio-hydrology, this study examines the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of levee-protected communities and their relationship to the safety rating of their levee system. Using GIS, socioeconomic data were compiled for each of the evaluated Illinois levee systems from the US Census and the USACE’s National Levee Database (NLD). In addition to socioeconomic data, the NLD contained information on a levee’s age, protection level, estimated value of structures within the levee-protected area, ownership, inspection status, safety rating, and other structural details. The value of levee-protected agricultural lands was also assessed using a soil productivity index used by the state of Illinois to assess taxes on farmland. This information was compiled to investigate the potential differences of socioeconomic characteristics of communities with unacceptable to those with an acceptable levee rating. To assess the differences between the compiled socioeconomic information, the Independent Samples U-Test was implemented to quantify differences between communities with an acceptable verse unacceptable safety rating. In this study, 71 levee systems were identified with a levee safety rating and socioeconomic data from which to perform the statistical comparison between levee systems with an acceptable versus unacceptable safety rating. Of these 71 levees systems, 28 had an unacceptable and 43 had an at least minimally acceptable safety rating. The results from the Independent Samples U-Test showed that five variables with substantial variance (α ≤ 0.2, 80% CI) between the levee safety ratings were, the age of the levee, property value per structure, the average soil productivity index, per capita income, and the percentage of population being black. Using these substantial variables, a binary logistic regression model was created to see if they could be used to realistically predict the levee system’s safety rating. The regression model was able to accurately predict 84% of the ‘acceptable’ group while only correctly predicting 25% of the ‘unacceptable’ group resulting in an overall accuracy of 61%. The inability of this model to predict a levee system’s safety rating underscores the complexities in trying to determine which socioeconomic factors are important for identifying a given levee system’s safety rating. This finding also suggests there are potentially other variables which may be more robust predictors of a community’s ability to adequately maintain their levee. Future research should investigate these complexities in identifying which communities can adequately maintain their levee system.




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