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CHL researchers supervise deployment of the PLUG during a test levee breach exercise.
Rapidly Deployable Repair System for Levee Breaches
Thousands of miles of levees and floodwalls protect critical infrastructure in highly populated areas throughout the United States. Of these structures, many are aging, have not been properly maintained and have been compromised by natural occurrences. Since traditional levee breach repair work can take days, the key element in all response systems designed to counteract the devastating effects of broken levees should be mobility and fast deployment.
Levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 raised national awareness for the potentially dangerous condition of levees across the country. Soon after, with funding from the US Department of Homeland Security, ERDC Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL) researchers investigated innovative ways to stop a levee breach within the first 4 to 6 hours, before it grew too big to contain.
Researchers developed a rapid repair response system to quickly close breaches in areas difficult to access. This technology, dubbed the Portable Lightweight Ubiquitous Gasket (PLUG), is a large tube of non-stretch fabric that is dropped into floodwaters where it fills rapidly to 60-70 percent capacity assisted by 4-inch trash pumps. The water transforms the unyielding fabric into a rigid plug that conforms to the levee breach and seals it.
Light enough to be transported by helicopter and flexible enough to adapt to a wide range of environmental situations and adverse weather conditions, PLUG uses a primary structural element readily available during flood events: water. PLUG could be used at a primary breach on a levee and at a secondary location within an area undergoing flooding to accomplish the following:
PLUG seals a levee breach and reduces floodwaters through the opening within 4 to 6 hours of detection—before the water can do major damage.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Jacksonville District requested a method to prevent the rapid increase of a levee breach at Lake Okeechobee, Fla. Lake Okeechobee is a prime example of how soil conditions play a large role in rapid breach expansion. To stop the expanding of the breach it will be necessary to prevent the sides from continuing to erode.
CHL researchers and engineers deployed PLUG to prevent the widening of potential levee breaches at Lake Okeechobee. This will limit the outflow of water and reduce the level of necessary repair once a flood event has ended. This system can be rapidly deployed and will either help stop the outflow of water from the lake or limit the flow while other methods are used to fix the levee breach. The system also helped the USACE Jacksonville district develop procedures and deployment options for a wide range of potential flood control and levee breach scenarios.
While the PLUG system is designed specifically for narrow, deep breaches, CHL researchers have developed and tested several other solutions tailored for other types of levee breaches, including the following:
CHL researchers demonstrated that innovative lightweight fabric structures like the PLUG can play an important role in revolutionizing the way engineers repair levee breaches. Throughout 3 years of incremental testing, the CHL research team successfully completed the following:
The PLUG work unit was completed in 2012. The research showed the PLUG has high potential for rapidly plugging a breach in a levee early in the breach development, preventing millions of dollars in flood damages and loss of life.