A bill introduced today by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create regional policies to manage trees on flood-control levees.
Dubbed the Levee Vegetation Review Act, the bill is cosponsored by 26 other members of the California Congressional delegation, including John Garamendi and Ami Bera, both Democrats from the Sacramento region.
In 2007 the Army Corps imposed a uniform levee maintenance rule across the nation that requires trees and shrubs to be removed from levees. This came despite longstanding regional policy in California, which allowed trees to compensate for habitat lost when the levees were built a century ago. The Army Corps itself planted many of the existing trees.
The policy has been hugely controversial across the nation. California officials have sued the Corps, arguing the policy violates the Endangered Species Act and that there are higher priorities for limited flood-control dollars.
"It is imperative that we find the right balance between ensuring we have strong and safe levees, and prudent fiscal and environmental concerns," Matsui said in a statement.
The bill requires the Corps to adopt regional variances with input from state and local entities, and provide flexibility to exempt areas from the policy. The Corps already has a process that allows local agencies to seek a project-specific variance, but it may require expensive levee redesign. There is currently no policy for broader, regional standards or exemptions.
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