The Chronicle has a story about the recent order to clear all vegetation — everything but grasses — from every levee in the country. It’s absurd. It’s also a huge, huge waste. After some big floods on the Sacramento River in 1986, there was a study about what parts of the levee system did better or worse than others. The sections with trees did a lot better: the trees protected them from erosion. They did better than sections that were reinforced by rock, in fact. And there have also been studies about animals burrowing into levee banks (which weakens the levees), and the levees that only have grasses have more burrows (mostly from ground squirrels). Basically the Corps is implementing a hugely expensive system to make the levees weaker. Of course it will also be absolutely devastating to riparian habitat—huge, huge swaths of it mown down. What a terrible, terrible thing. As the Chronicle article describes, some state agencies are trying to avoid complying. Good for them! But if the Feds want it done, it’s hard to fight.
You know, I’m used to the idea of one side losing and the other side winning, and all too often it’s the environment that is on the losing side. In this case it’s even worse, both sides lose. The Army Corps of Engineers really needs to reverse this decision.