“Even as it clings to a policy requiring state and local agencies to clear trees from levees, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted one of its own districts a variance to plant 30,000 trees along the levee-lined Sacramento River.
“The Corps has always been an agency of internal contradictions, but this one suggests a higher level of Dilbert-like bureaucratic incongruity. How can the top leadership of the Corps reasonably expect flood agencies to strip trees from riverbanks – putting themselves in conflict with environmental laws, and possibly undermining the structural integrity of levees – when the Corps is letting one of its own act like Johnny Appleseed?
“Ever since New Orleans was inundated during Hurricane Katrina, the national Corps office has aggressively enforced vegetation removal on levees, attempting to make trees a culprit for other institutional failings that led to the flooding of the Big Easy.
“Here in California, flood agencies and environmental groups have objected.
“Friends of the River has sued, and the California Department of Fish and Game has filed notice of intent to sue.
“Such lawsuits stand a good chance of success, partly because the Corps’ own research has shown that trees planted at the toe of levees can actually benefit public safety. Their roots help reinforce the levees’ integrity.
“The stakes are particularly large here because, as The Bee’s Matt Weiser noted in a story Saturday, early 20th century engineers built California’s levees close together to scour out old mining sediment. That has left us with little riparian forest – essential for fish and wildlife. The Corps, if its national office were to have its way, would mow down that remaining forest.