17 Central Valley levee systems lose eligibility for federal rehab assistance
By Chris Gray-Garcia
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A total of 17 levee systems in or near Sacramento, Stockton, Chester, Knights Landing and Gustine are now ineligible for federal rehabilitation assistance after a temporary agreement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of California extending eligibility for deficient levees expired in June.
The Corps informed the California Central Valley Flood Protection Board of the change in program status in a letter Aug. 22. The board is responsible for the maintenance of the affected levees. The change is not the result of new inspections, and does not reflect new findings about the condition of the levees. All 17 levee systems received unacceptable maintenance ratings in their most recent Corps inspections - due primarily to widespread encroachments, erosion and bank caving - but retained eligibility for rehabilitation assistance under the agreement, called the California Central Valley Flood System Improvement Framework. While non-compliant vegetation was also found to be an unacceptable deficiency, in none of these 17 systems would it have led to an overall unacceptable system rating, with or without the framework.
Levee safety is a shared responsibility at all levels of government, with the Corps setting standards for levee safety, providing rehabilitation assistance to levee maintaining agencies that maintain active status in the levee Rehabilitation and Inspection Program and offering flood fighting assistance in cases of emergency.
"Our levee safety standards have to be as unforgiving as flood waters if we're going to consistently reduce risk to the growing number of Americans living in flood plains," said Col. Bill Leady, commander of the Corps' Sacramento District. "Though these levee systems are currently ineligible for rehabilitation assistance, we are still here to help. We'll continue working with the state of California and local agencies toward long-term, sustainable improvements to levee systems in the Central Valley, and we will always be here to help in a flood. We have several ongoing and future levee construction projects, and this change in eligibility for rehabilitation assistance does not affect those projects."
Since 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District has inspected 32 of the 118 levee systems sponsored by the board. The framework, which provided interim guidance for levee maintenance while the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan was developed, temporarily afforded continued RIP eligibility for levee systems sponsored by the board with five categories of deficiencies: channel capacity, seepage, erosion, encroachments and vegetation. Though the Corps acknowledges the significant achievement of the plan, the plan does not adequately describe how the board intends to comply with Corps levee standards or serve as a replacement of the framework, and does not support continued RIP eligibility for unacceptable systems. With its adoption, the framework expired.
To regain active status in the RIP, a levee manager must either fix the deficiencies noted in the Corps' levee inspection report or submit a system-wide improvement framework, or SWIF, a long-term strategy that outlines how deficient levees will be brought into compliance with Corps standards over time, focusing on the highest-risk deficiencies first.