A bill introduced Wednesday by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create regional policies to manage trees on levees.
Dubbed the Levee Vegetation Review Act, the bill is co-sponsored by 26 other members of the California congressional delegation, including John Garamendi and Ami Bera, both Democrats from the Sacramento region.
In 2007, the Corps imposed a uniform rule across the nation requiring trees and shrubs to be removed from levees. This came despite long-standing regional policy in California, which allowed trees to atone for habitat lost when levees were built a century ago. The Corps itself planted many of those trees.
The policy has been hugely controversial across the nation. California is suing the Corps, arguing the policy violates the Endangered Species Act and is a poor use of limited flood-control dollars.
"It is imperative we find the right balance between ensuring we have strong and safe levees, and prudent fiscal and environmental concerns," Matsui said.
The bill requires the Corps to adopt regional rules with input from state and local entities, and provide flexibility to exempt areas. The Corps already has a process for local agencies to seek a project-specific variance, but it may require costly levee redesign.