Flood Barriers – Sandbags and Alternatives

Parts of the upper Midwest, USA, have been fighting floods for over a week now. Communities in North and South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and especially Minnesota have all suffered. Storms and torrential rainfall have left levels of several rivers, including the Mississippi and Minnesota, dangerously high and they are set to remain so for some time. The severe weather has continued and appears to moving east. Parts of Illinois, Ohio and New York have also seen flooding in the last few days.

Various politicians, including President Obama, have visited some of the affected areas. Numerous states of emergency declared and state and federal money pledged to help flood victims. Where necessary (and possible), temporary flood defences have been erected in order to help protect homes and businesses.


In the past, this simply meant piling up sandbags. And for some flood-hit areas – in the Midwest and elsewhere – there is still a heavy reliance on sandbags. For example 3 million sandbags were used by the city of Fargo during the 2009 floods. Often US local authorities will distribute sand and empty sandbags to local residents during flood threats. During the current floods in Minnesota, the city of Newport, near to the currently swollen Mississippi River, has set up sand station so that residents can make sandbags to protect their homes.

The sandbag of course has some advantages. It’s fairly cheap and simple to use. Sandbags are useful for protecting small, uneven or hard to reach places. But they can be prone to leaking, and may even collect contaminent from flood water. In particular, erecting sandbag flood defences can be slow, back-breaking work.

These days there are alternatives to labor intensive sandbags. In fact there is a wide choice of modern, innovative flood defence products available, offering flood-threatened communities an alternative.


Take, for example, the transportable flood barriers from AquaFence. Once fitted, these L-Shaped fences cleverly use the pressure of the flood water to stabilize them.

About 7,000 feet of AquaFence protected areas of Fargo, North Dakota, including utilities and a hospital, from the flooding of 2011.

A team of 10 people can install about 100 meters (328 feet) of AquaFence per hour. The barrier can also include corners, making it especially well-suited to protecting buildings and spaces in urban or built up areas.

Aquafence flood barrier
Sanford Health Clicnic, Fargo, protected by AquaFence flood barrier

Fast-Built Levee

Progressive Innovations is a compay based in Minnesota, so they should know a thing or two about the current floods there. In fact their Fast-Built Levee® is currently protecting buildings in Princeton Minnesota. The 18 inch high barrier barrier was deployed there when floods threatened on May 5th 2014 and is still holding back the water now.

Fast-Built Levee® is a flood barrier that consists of specialized plastic poly tube filled with sand or clean fill soil. When deployed using their Levee Building Machines, it can install the equivalent of between 100,000 and 140,000 sandbags per day, making it perfect for wide areas. For example, Fast-Built Levee® was recently used to protect power plants and industrial facilities in Missouri.

Fast-Built Levee flood barrier
Deployment of the Fast-Built Levee flood barrier

NoFloods Barriers

NoFloods Barriers offer the unusual concept of fighting water with water. The barrier is an inflatable dam – essentially a large, lightweight tube that is filled with air during initial deployment. The incoming floodwater then starts to replace the air inside the tubes to create a stable barrier as well as decreasing the volume of the rising floodwater, hence “fighting water with water.” The system also means it can be deployed both preventively and curatively.

It can be deployed in sections (up to 200 metres) and continuously extended if necessary. It is also very quick to install – 4 men can deploy 1000 metres in less than 4 hours. Although this might suggest it is used for wider areas such as beaches or river banks, the structure is lightweight and flexible, and can therefore can be configured in a variety of shapes and sizes.

NoFloods Barriers are designed and made by Danish company Environment Solutions. They were used during the floods that struck northern France after storms in January 2014.

inflatable dam brittany france
NoFloods Barrier in Pontivy, France, January 2014
flood defences brittany france
NoFloods Barrier in Pontivy, France, January 2014

Above is just a small selection of new and innovative ways being used to keep flooding at bay. Although there may still be a place for the lowly sandbag in flood protection, new ideas and products are being used to very good effect in building temporary flood defences. It’s a shame that these products aren’t given more publicity and exposure.

FloodList will be running a series of articles featuring temporary flood defence products and viable alternatives to the labor intensive sandbag. Please feel free to contact us here if you have any experience of temporary flood barriers, or if you or your company offer such products. We would be very happy to hear from you.