California Levees Roundtable: Purpose & Goals
The California Levees Roundtable (Roundtable) was created through an effort by officials at the Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB) following the successful Levee Vegetation Science Conference organized by SAFCA, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in August 2007. The Roundtable is comprised of senior level officials representing the Corps from Headquarters, South Pacific Division, and the Sacramento District; the CVFPB, DWR, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Reclamation District No. 2068 and SAFCA. The Roundtable agencies agreed to work together to draft a phased system-wide levee vegetation plan, with short and long-term elements. The vegetation plan transitioned into the recently adopted California’s Central Valley Flood System Improvement Framework (Framework)
The Roundtable recognized that vegetation management is only one of many issues that threaten levees and broadened its scope to address many threats to levee integrity. The flood system improvement process requires a comprehensive approach to improve public safety that focuses first on the most critical areas affecting public safety.
The Roundtable participants agreed to the following principals in formulating the Framework:
- Providing for public safety is the top priority of all involved Federal, State, and local agencies.
- Achieving and maintaining levee integrity is an urgent ongoing concern that needs to be addressed as rapidly as possible.
- Riparian vegetation along Project levees is coincident with the “system” and is important for habitat, recreation and aesthetic values.
- The Corps has lead responsibility to ensure that levee maintenance standards are enforced nationwide, including the management of vegetation on levees.
- Vegetation on levees can sometimes compromise levee integrity or flood-fighting access, or provide valuable erosion control, depending on vegetation type and location.
- The Agencies need to utilize the best available science when making decisions about how to improve and maintain levee integrity, including decisions regarding vegetation managementThe agencies further agreed:
- To work together expeditiously to develop short- and long-term plans to achieve system-wide compliance with Corps’ standards for the State Flood System in the Central Valley.
- That levee deficiencies will be addressed on a priority basis within each of the major funding areas of rehabilitation and operations/maintenance, with the most urgent and cost effective actions implemented first in each area.
- The CVFPP plan developed by 2012 will seek to reconcile the management of flood risk with the conservation of natural resources without compromising public safety. Where the flood management system does not meet current public safety objectives, interim measures will be employed, subject to appropriate environmental compliance, to reduce the probability and consequences of failure while permanent measures are pursued
Some main elements contained in the Framework include:
- Inspections – The California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the Corps, and local levee maintaining agencies (LMAs) have recently developed improved levee inspection processes and will continue to improve levee inspections.
- Enforcement – To ensure that identified levee deficiencies are addressed, DWR, the CVFPB, and the Corps will use enforcement actions where necessary.
- Early Implementation Projects – There is an identified need, especially in urban areas in deep floodplains, to proceed with some high priority flood improvement projects before a comprehensive plan is ready for implementation. An element of approval for these projects ensures that they do not eliminate opportunities or prejudice flood risk reduction alternatives that would provide regional or system-wide benefits.
- Ongoing Flood Protection Projects – DWR, the Corps, and local partners will continue to work on implementation of site-specific projects as they become ready for construction.
- Research – Peer reviewed scientific research will be conducted to support development of a technically defensible vegetation management policy in support of California’s FloodSAFE initiative. Research will consider both beneficial and harmful impacts of levee vegetation on Central Valley levees. It is expected scientific research, as well as long-term evaluation and monitoring of vegetation life cycles with respect to performance of project levees in the Central Valley, will support granting of regional variances to the national standards for the Sacramento and San Joaquin levee systems. In addition, research is expected to identify appropriate engineering actions from a risk perspective to mitigate leaving select vegetation on levees.
- Environmental Considerations – Mitigation of environmental effects of flood system improvements as well as habitat enhancements implemented as part of multi-objective projects will be part of the environmental considerations for the system. Development and implementation of a Multi-species and Floodplain Conservation Strategy, including a conservation banking program, will guide this effort.
- Coordination – State and Federal agencies are working together on several fronts to address levee vegetation management and the broader problems with California’s levees.
- Issues to Resolve – Many of the specifics needed for this Framework have to be resolved together during the next four years as implementation progresses. Among many issues to resolve, participating agencies need to work on a vision to strategically address the need for environmental protection and public safety at the same time.
- Implementation Roles – Implementation of the Framework requires continued work of State, federal, and local agencies. This section summarizes what can be expected of various agencies. DWR, in collaboration with the CVFPB, is taking a leadership role for the majority of actions identified in the Framework, but the Corps will be an active partner throughout the process. DWR and the Corps will coordinate with the environmental resource agencies during planning and project development to determine how to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts, and to identify opportunities for ecosystem restoration and enhancement as integral components to flood system improvements. LMAs will continue to improve their operation and maintenance activities for levees under their responsibility.
The Framework is a living document – a work in progress – that provides general guidance for helping State agencies move forward while the system-wide Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is being developed. The participating agencies recognize that many of the specifics needed for the Framework have to be worked out together during the next four years, including the necessary environmental permitting associated with specific actions or programs. Therefore, details in the document should be viewed as supporting a good-faith effort to make progress in the interest of public safety improvements over time.