Environmental Regulations Blamed for California Floods

Published June 1, 1997

One of the most destructive floods in recent California memory–one that caused three deaths and over $2 billion in damages–is being attributed to the regulatory zeal of federal and state agencies rigidly enforcing environmental regulations, notably the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

When torrential rains came to California’s Central Valley last New Year’s Day, farmers and ranchers in the agriculturally productive region were not protected by the system of dikes that had guarded residents from the ravages of floods for decades. The dikes, valley residents say, didn’t do their job because they were in a poor state of repair owing to the environmental regulatory priorities of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and the California Bureau of Reclamation. Some of the funds originally earmarked for levee repair were diverted by these agencies to the restoration of habitat of endangered species such as the beaver and the fairy shrimp. Regulators went so far as to spend money planting trees on top of levees that were badly in need of structural maintenance.

Outrage over the widespread devastation and loss of life in the valley brought on by delays in repairing the levees and carrying out long-overdue dredging of river bottoms has crossed party lines. Speaking to local residents, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “We must strengthen these levees.” She added that, “Levees are not habitat. Levees should not be habitat. Levees are there to stop water.” Congressmen Richard Pombo and Wally Herger, both Republicans, have introduced legislation that would amend the ESA so as to shorten the process required to carry out needed flood-control measures.

PF: For additional information, see “Regulatory Dam Bursts as California Floods Rage,” from the March 10, 1997 issue of Insight magazine. The two-page article is available through PolicyFax; call 847-202-4888 and request document #????????