Saturday, July 28, 2007

Levee Habitat

It appears that it may be able to stay, a good thing.

Corps may leave most levee habitat
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sacramento levees could keep much of the vegetation that is among the region's last riverside habitat for wildlife, under a compromise suggested Friday by the newly appointed national commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp said he intends to create a flexible levee maintenance policy that allows California levee managers to keep vegetation that now covers many levees. The new policy will be based on science and collaboration with state and federal agencies overseeing levees and wildlife in California.

"We'll be reasonable," he said. "We're going to keep public safety job one. But these are multipurpose levees in that we have habitat and endangered species, and we're concerned about that, too."

His comments are the clearest public statement yet from the corps that it intends to accommodate the region's unique river environment.

It is likely to break some tension over a conflict that emerged in February, when the corps said it would apply national levee maintenance policies in California for the first time.

Those rules bar vegetation over 2 inches in diameter on levees, putting hundreds of miles of habitat at risk in Sacramento and the Central Valley. Thirty-two California levee districts failed the standard, largely because of excessive vegetation. Many more are likely to fail after further inspections this fall.

For decades, the corps' Sacramento District has applied a different standard in California, largely in recognition of the region's unique environment.

Most California levees were built close together after the Gold Rush to make rivers run faster to scour out mining debris.

As a result, trees and shrubs on levees now provide the only waterside habitat that remains for many sensitive wildlife species.