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Utilizing Levee Fragility Curves to Develop Flood Hazard Maps

Levee fragility curves can be used in the Central Valley flood studies to develop flood
hazard maps with the FLO-2D model. An algorithm using the Corps levee fragility curves has
been coded in the FLO-2D model to automatically predict levee breach failure anywhere in the
levee system. This FLO-2D levee failure component with fragility curves represents a linkage
between a geotechnical risk model and prediction of the water surface elevations with a flood
routing model. It is a link between levee geotechnical performance and flood routing hydraulics.
It also implicitly defines levee risk of failure for hazard mapping.
Levee core and shell material may vary significantly in levee systems especially where
older levee reaches do not conform to existing construction standards. As a result, levee failure
is difficult to predict in both time and space. Levees often fail before the flood waters reach the
levee crest elevation due to geotechnical flaws that initiate piping. Often a piping failure may
expand to a complete breach in a relatively short period of time while the flood is still rising.
The Corps of Engineers use a levee failure risk model that incorporates the probability of levee
geotechnical failure as function of flood water surface elevation. This model is known as a levee
fragility curve (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Example of Levee Fragility Curves for Typical Sacramento River Basin Levees
(From the Corps of Engineers, Comprehensive Study, 2002)
The levee fragility curves specify the relationship between the probability of levee failure
and the water surface elevation (or likely failure stage) below the levee crest. The elevation
corresponding to a 50% failure probability can be selected as the likely failure point and can be
used to initiate levee failures in the Corps hydraulic models. In the FLO-2D model, the levee
breach failure may include piping, slope stability and under seepage. The fragility curves are
based on a geotechnical investigation of the existing levee system involving construction

methods, levee soil composition, foundation conditions, and other factors. At the present time,
existing Central Valley fragility curves are based primarily on engineering judgment and
represent a qualitative approach to evaluating levee integrity. Future fragility curves can be
based on levee geotechnical investigations including field inspection, in situ (borings), and
laboratory testing. The extent of in-situ testing and laboratory testing (cohensive strength,
compaction and other tests) will determine the reliability of the fragility curves. The levee
fragility curves are read directly by the FLO-2D model in a discretized rating table format for a
set of curves as shown below. The first column is the curve reference name; the second column
is the probability of failure (x-axis Figure 1); and third column is the distance below the levee
crest in feet or meters (y-axis).

0.03 6.0
0.15 3.5
0.50 2.5
0.85 1.0
0.95 0.0
0.03 9.0
0.15 5.5
0.50 4.0
0.85 2.0
0.98 0.0
0.03 12.0
0.15 9.0
0.50 6.5
0.85 4.0
1.00 0.0
0.15 15.0
0.50 9.0
0.85 6.0
1.00 0.0

Application of the Levee Fragility Curves in the FLO-2D Model

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) can apply the levee fragility
curves in the Central Valley Floodplain Evaluation and Delineation project to delineate and map
potential flood hazards. FLO-2D was uniquely suited to utilizing the levee fragility curves. It
has a levee breach erosion component that can initiate breaching anywhere in the levee system
based on water surface elevation. This component conceptually emulates the National Weather
Service Breach Model but has numerous improvements. A piping failure can initiate anywhere
in the levee system that water surface reaches a prescribed distance below the crest. Through the
physical process of sediment transport, the pipe breach will expand to a channel breach and
collapse as the levee erodes. When combined with the user assigned fragility curves, the model
can locate the levee failure anywhere based on a user selected probability of failure. When these
fragility curves are applied with the FLO-2D flood routing model using the levee breach erosion
component, levee failure location and time of occurrence can be predicted. The following levee
fragility curve data is assigned by the user in the FLO-2D model:
Global Levee Data: Line ID, Fragility Curve ID, Probability of Failure (eg. 0.50)
Individual Levee Data: Line ID, Grid Element, Fragility Curve ID, Probability of Failure




This data assignment enables the user to specify either global fragility curve data for the entire
levee system or individual levee grid elements or reaches of levee fragility curves in the FLO-2D
model in a spatially variable analysis.
FLO-2D Fragility Curve Modeling Results
When the levee fragility curves are applied to a levee system, the results show that the
levee breach can occur anywhere in the system at varying times depending of the selection of the
fragility curve and the prescribe probability of failure. The FLO-2D levee breach model initiates
piping when the predicted unconfined flood water reached the prescribed elevation for a defined
duration. The pipe erosion expands to a breach channel when the pipe roof collapses and
escalates to a full breach when breach the channel side slopes collapse. The breach expands in
the FLO-2D model until the rate of sediment transport from the breach decreases. Figure 2
shows a FLO-2D simulation of levee breaching in progressing at two locations at the same time
based on variable assignment of the levee fragility curves. In this figure, the levee embankment
extends from the red FLO-2D grid system boundary to the urban area in the center of the image.

Figure 2. FLO-2D Levee Breach Simulation in Progress Using Levee Fragility Curves
(Right: Levee Simultaneously Breaching in 2 Locations; Left: Levee Breaches Expanding)
Benefits of Using the Levee Fragility Curves for Flood Hazard Mapping
The levee fragility curves define the relationship between geotechnical and flood hazard
as well as identify the levee risk associated with potential levee failure. A series of FLO-2D
simulations with different failure probability assignments (eg. 10%, 50% and 90%) will identify
the area of inundation associated with the geotechnical confidence of the levee. The area of
inundation will be much greater if the likely failure point was assumed to be 10% than 50%. The
area of predicted area inundation could be evaluated for flood damages and assigned risk. The
assignment of the different levels of failure probability will result in different locations of the
levee breach. Through volume conservation in the FLO-2D model, the flooding through a levee
breach in one location may reduce the potential for complete levee breaches or even breach
initiation elsewhere in the levee system where the levee may be weak. By assigning different
levee fragility curves and levee failure probability in the levee system, different areas of
inundation will be predicted. The FLO-2D fragility curve method combines flood risk,
geotechnical levee characteristics and flood routing hydraulics for a spatial assessment of levee
failure corresponding with the actual floodwave progression. This represents a significant step in
accurate hazard mapping.