On January 23, 2013, over 25 California delegates to the House of Representatives introduced a bill, H.R. 399 (pdf), addressing the federal rules requiring trees growing on levees to be removed. Specifically, the bill would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to review its policy about vegetation-removal on levees, in order to consider allowing variances on a regional or watershed basis.
The Corps established a national vegetation removal policy in the wake of the failure of levees during Hurricane Katrina. According to Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), the “[C]orps' current vegetation policy does not provide enough flexibility for the unique challenges of different regions across the nation, and particularly in California.”
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) estimates that compliance with the current federal policy would cost at least $7.5 billion and would destroy important habitat for endangered species. Under the existing policy, original riparian forest would have to be removed; such vegetation is habitat to several endangered species, including Chinook salmon, valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and Central Valley steelhead. DWR is concerned that compliance both with the Corps’ vegetation removal policy and the Endangered Species Act would be unworkable.
As we reported here, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife filed a lawsuit against the Corps in February 2012. That suit is still pending.