Environmental group targets Corps of Engineers’ levee rules

By Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

An environmental group today began legal action against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to overturn controversial maintenance rules that could require virtually all vegetation to be cleared from levees.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Army Corps. It claims the agency failed to consult with federal wildlife agencies, as required by the Endangered Species Act, before imposing the policy. The group also alleges the Army Corps is inappropriately shifting this consulting burden to local levee agencies.

The Army Corps certifies the flood-safety of major levee systems. Its maintenance policy allows only short grass on levees, based on the view that larger plants threaten levee safety — a claim that has yet to be verified by science. Failure to comply could mean losing federal assistance for flood damages.

Such has been the national policy for years, though some regional areas have long operated under unique vegetation standards — with the blessing of the Army Corps — including California.

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