The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Michael Garrity, American Rivers, 206-213-0330, x. 11
Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice, 206-343-7480, x. 25

Group Targets Flawed Federal Levee Policies in Puget Sound

American Rivers Seeks Safe and Effective Flood Protection Policies That Safeguard People and Salmon


An Army Corps of Engineers policy to remove trees and other
vegetation from levees on Puget Sound area rivers jeopardizes
endangered salmon and may compromise flood protection, American Rivers
said today in a 60-day notice of intent to sue letter to the Corps.
American Rivers urged the Corps to resolve the issue and pledged to
work with the Corps to achieve lasting solutions.

The notice was filed on the eve of a conference in Seattle hosted by the Army Corps to discuss its levee vegetation policy.

"Cutting down trees on levees is a doubly bad idea. It destroys
habitat for endangered salmon and can even compromise flood
protection," said Michael Garrity, Washington conservation director for
American Rivers. "We can and must find a common sense way to manage
these levees that maximizes flood safety, uses taxpayer dollars wisely,
and protects our salmon."

In the notice, American Rivers said that the Army Corps of
Engineers' levee maintenance program violates the Endangered Species
Act because it harms federally protected chinook, chum and steelhead in
Puget Sound. The Corps' levee Rehabilitation and Inspection Program
("RIP") requires that trees over two to four inches in diameter must be
cut from levees in order to be eligible for federal repair and
emergency funds. But cutting the trees also removes shade that helps
keep rivers cool, as well as habitat for insects that provide a key
food source for salmon.

While the Corps' levee maintenance requirements are premised on the
idea that larger trees weaken levees, the weight of scientific evidence
shows that assumption to be incorrect. For example, during recent
floods in the Pacific Northwest, levees with substantial native
vegetation on them remained unaffected, while those meeting the Corps'
RIP standards sustained heavy damage.

The issue arose in January 2007 on King County's Snoqualmie, Green,
Cedar, Raging and Tolt rivers. The Corps informed the county that in
order to remain eligible for RIP funding, the county would have to
comply with Corps standards, which meant removing hundreds of
streamside trees. King County has resisted the Corps' demands, stating
that removal of streamside vegetation is inconsistent with numerous
salmon recovery plans and projects, and that the vegetation actually
strengthens the levees. Both the county and American Rivers have
contacted the Corps requesting that they delay tree cutting while they
consider granting the county a waiver from the standard vegetation
management requirements, but the Corps has so far refused to do so.

"It's time to reform the Corps' policies so that they serve the
public's interest in proper flood control and salmon recovery," said
Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney representing American Rivers.
"With a new partner leading the federal government we're confident we
can work this out in a way where everyone will benefit."

While the Corps' levee maintenance and repair program is implemented
nationwide, the groups are targeting its implementation in Puget
Sound. The Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda and the federally
adopted Puget Sound chinook recovery plan both call for updating the
Corps' vegetation standards and improving levee design standards.

Global warming will bring more frequent and intense floods, as well
as higher river temperatures, to the Puget Sound region, increasing the
stresses on levees and endangered salmon. American Rivers is urging the
Corps to update its levee policy now, to prepare for these new
challenges in the coming years.

"We need a broader vision for our rivers that incorporates effective
flood protection strategies and also protects critical fish and
wildlife habitat," said Garrity. "In the future this will mean
restoring and protecting floodplains and wetlands and setting back
levees to give rivers more room to move. When it comes to flood
protection and public safety, we need to work with nature, not against

American Rivers is the only national organization standing up for healthy rivers so our communities can thrive. Through national advocacy, innovative solutions and our growing network of strategic partners, we protect and promote our rivers as valuable assets that are vital to our health, safety and quality of life. Founded in 1973, American Rivers has more than 65,000 members and supporters nationwide, with offices in Washington, DC and the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, California and Northwest regions.