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, or ways to fill sandbags faster and more efficiently. In fact there is a wide choice of modern, innovative flood defence products available, offering flood-threatened communities an alternative.

MegaSecur Water-Gate Dams

Take, for example, Water-Gate dams by MegaSecur, a solution for flooding, pollution, work in submerged areas, and fire water reservoirs.

First developed in 1998, Water-Gate dams are considered among the fastest and most reliable, flexible, economical, and environmentally friendly emergency response equipment on the market. They are also reusable and versatile.

The Water‑Gate® flood dam comes as a PVC roll. The design uses the weight of the incoming floodwater to deploy and stabilize itself. Water enters and accumulates at the bottom of the barrier as the water level rises, causing the barrier to unfold and swell. The lightweight design allows for timely intervention in remote or hard‑to‑access environments.

Find more about the Water-Gate dams for flood protection on the MegaSecur website, or via the Flood Protection section of our flood business directory here.

sandbags alternative
Self-locking water dams — Water-Gate® – a fast, environmentally friendly alternative to sandbags
alternative to sandbags
Water-Gate® – Self-locking water dams. A fast, environmentally friendly alternative to sandbags

Barrier Force Protective Barriers

Barrier Force is a Cellular Containment System that provides flood protection and erosion control and an ingenious alternative to sandbags.

Unlike traditional sandbags, Barrier Force systems are a series of pentagon-shaped bags sloped on one side, vertical on the other, open at the top, and connected side by side like an accordion. Because each cell’s weight is more than twice the pressure of the water pressing against it, moving the chain is virtually impossible.

Barrier Force can be used for flood management, dune restoration and infrastructure protection. Find more about the Barrier Force protective barriers on the Barrier Force website, or via the Flood Protection section of our flood business directory here.

alternative to sandbags for flood protection
Barrier Force Cellular Containment System – an alternative to sandbags for flood protection and control. Barrier Force
sandbags alternative for flood protection
Barrier Force Cellular Containment System for flood protection and control. Photo: Barrier Force

TrapBag Flood Barrier Systems

TrapBag® flood barrier systems are a continuous cellular containment barrier used wherever prevention and protection from natural disasters and man-made disasters are required. TrapBag barriers offer solutions for flood protection, erosion control, mudslide protection and prevention, environmental pollution control, and many others.

The Company says the TrapBag containment systems are used by governments, businesses, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others. Find more about the TrapBag Flood Barrier Systems on the Trap Bag website, or via the Flood Protection section of our flood business directory here.

TrapBag® flood barrier system here protecting beach and coastal areas from storm surge. Photo: TrapBag®


One problem posed by sandbags is the large number required and the time it takes to fill them. The SandMaster aims to take the time and strain out of sandbag filling. It
attaches to a piece of equipment and quickly fills, transports, securely closes and places multiple sandbags where they are needed. The SandMaster is capable of filling and placing 4,800-6,200 sandbags in 8 hours with only 3 people.

Find more about the SandMaster on the SandMaster Barrier Systems website, or via the Flood Protection section of our flood business directory here.

SandMaster- fill sandbags fast
SandMaster- fill sandbags fast


Absorbeez are similar to sandbags in looks and applications, but with one important (and clever) factor: there’s no sand!

Absorbeez are suitable for smaller scale flood protection such as doorways, as well a larger areas such as garages or patios. They come in an assortment of sizes, are lightweight (before use) and can be stored easily until needed. When needed, just lay them out where required, such as a door way and they will expand to form a barrier on contact with water.

Find more about the Absorbeez for flood protection on the Absorbeez, or via the Flood Protection section of our flood business directory here.

Absorbeez – alternatives to sandbags for flood protection.


AquaFence offer transportable flood barriers. 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 company based in Minnesota, so they should know a thing or two about the current floods there. In fact their Fast-Built Levee® protected buildings in Princeton Minnesota where the 18 inch high barrier barrier was deployed there when floods threatened on 05 May 2014.

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 suitable for wide areas.

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.

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NoFloods Barrier in Pontivy, France, January 2014
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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.

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.

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the companies above subscribe to the FloodList business directory. Beyond that, FloodList is in no way affiliated to any product, service or company mentioned above. Also note, our website contains general information on flood events and flood control. It is not technical advice and should not be treated as such, and is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied. For technical advice on flood protection you should contact a professional company direct.