Congressman Garamendi, Local Water and Environmental Officials, Stand United Against Effort to Clear Cut Trees and Vegetation near Levees
RICHMOND, CA – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek, CA), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Armed Services committees, Monday joined local and state water and environmental officials at Wildcat Creek in Richmond in opposition to an Army Corps of Engineers plan to clear cut vegetation along California levees. The plan would require brush clearing and deforestation along 3,000 miles of streams and rivers in California, including more than 100 miles in the Bay Area.
"The Army Corps of Engineers must realize that all levee systems are not built the same," said Congressman Garamendi, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Interior from 1995-1998. "It’s very clear from studies here in California that you can build levees that preserve public safety and take into consideration the impact on local economies and wildlife habitats. We especially need to be sensitive about habitats relied upon by rare and endangered species."
The Water Resources Development Act of 1996 requires cooperation with local governments and consideration of the environmental impact of any levy construction policy. Specifically, Section 202(g) requires examining “current policies in view of the varied interests in providing flood control, preserving, protecting, and enhancing natural resources” in a process "undertaken in cooperation with interested Federal agencies and in consultation with interested representatives of State and local governments and the public."
Following the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 which established the National Levee Safety Committee (NLSC) responsible for providing recommendations to Congress for a national levee safety program. The NLSC is still drafting their recommendations.
Yet on April 10, 2009, the Army Corps of Engineers published Engineering and Design: Guidelines for Landscape Planting and Vegetation Management at Levees, Floodwalls, Embankment Dams, and Appurtenant Structures, requiring all federally constructed levees along streams and rivers to be free of trees and shrubs. Recommendations for blanket vegetation removal in this document have not been endorsed by the NLSC or Congress, leading many agencies involved on the local level to think that the Corps is acting beyond its mandate.
"The Corps must change its policies or else they will jeopardize public safety and cost local governments millions of dollars," Garamendi added. "Public safety and environmental sustainability can and must work hand-in-hand."
"We don’t understand why the Army Corps of Engineers is doing this," said Mitch Avalon with the Bay Area Flood Protection Agencies Association. The Association represents all public works agencies in the Bay Area. "Research has shown that vegetation is a very low risk factor for levee failure and many levees, like Wildcat Creek, are safer with vegetation."
"We’re stuck between conflicting laws," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, whose West County District includes Richmond. "If we do what the Corps wants, we’ll get fined by the State Fish and Game and Federal fish and wildlife regulators. If we don’t, we’ll be in jeopardy of losing federal flood disaster assistance and residents in the area will be burdened with higher insurance rates."