State, feds agree to accelerate levee repairs |

State, feds agree to accelerate levee repairs

SACRAMENTO (AP) – The Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations have reached agreement on accelerating environmental reviews that state officials say will allow critical levee repairs to start in July and end by Nov. 1.

President Bush on April 21 directed several federal agencies to speed up their reviews under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Protection Act and other federal laws.

A memorandum of understanding signed Monday by the state and federal agencies formalized the deal, setting a timeline to complete all regulatory processes by June 21.

Without the agreement, it could have taken a year, or up to four years, to secure the permits necessary to begin the work, state officials said.

Biologists and state officials are currently studying how to build environmental safeguards into the projects, said Nancy Saracino, chief counsel to the Department of Water Resources.

The state has identified 29 levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that need repairs to prevent flooding and ensure the reliability of water delivery to cities and farms.

Meanwhile, a congressional fight over so-called pork barrel projects threatened to jeopardize $11.3 million for levee repairs along the Sacramento River.

The money is part of $22.3 million for Sacramento flood control that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., added to an emergency spending bill to fund the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina relief. The final version of the bill could contain $14 million more.

As the Senate debated the bill on Tuesday, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., included the $11.3 million for Sacramento River bank protection in amendments to remove spending he viewed as unnecessary and wasteful.

“It doesn’t meet the definition of emergency that it should meet in coming through this bill,” Coburn said.

Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., disputed that vigorously during a half-hour debate on the Senate floor.

“If there ever were a disaster waiting to happen, it is the levee situation in the state of California,” said Feinstein.

Schwarzenegger also sent Coburn a letter on Tuesday to defend the spending as necessary.

A vote on Coburn’s amendment to strike the Sacramento River bank funding was expected Wednesday. The Senate was also expected on Wednesday to approve the overall bill.

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