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Seeing Levees Saves Lives: FAQs

Common questions for impacted Garden Highway property owners.

Why is visibility of the Sacramento River Eastside Levee so important during high water events? What is the role of drive-by levee patrols? 

The District’s Emergency Action Plan utilizes drive-by patrolling because it allows for continuous, real-time inspection of the levees during high water events. During such events, conditions can change rapidly. Other monitoring tools like satellite imagery, ground imagery or aerial imagery have significant limitations during an emergency. Most crucially, they cannot be performed in real time. This is why drive-by patrolling is the appropriate standard used by both the State of California and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  

As is often the case, these events happen in the middle of the night, in driving wind and rain. We cannot rely on individual property owners to continuously inspect their properties and report them immediately to RD 1000, or trust the accuracy of dated (non-real time) imagery. Having trained Flood Control Specialists, who continuously inspect the levees and flood protection infrastructure during these critical times, is the best and most effective way to ensure potential failure of the flood protection system is identified quickly. It affords RD 1000 the best opportunity to combat the potential risks and initiate a flood fight as swiftly as possible. Drive-by patrolling is essential in these conditions to protect the safety of the entire Natomas Basin. Because high hazard vegetation can prevent drive-by patrols from identifying and responding to urgent conditions in a flood event, modification of existing vegetation is essential.

Not all Garden Highway residential properties are scheduled to have landscaping removed. What criteria was used to determine which Garden Highway residential properties would have landscaping removed? 

The list of properties needing to come into compliance was generated from inspections performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Periodic Inspection 2010), the Central Valley Flood Protection Board’s Fall and Spring Levee Inspection Reports (Bi-Annually) and RD 1000’s Encroachment Survey (2019). The properties were evaluated against current State and Federal requirements/standards. RD 1000’s survey ranked all properties along the Sacramento River Eastside Levee (>600 properties) and categorized the permitted and non-permitted encroachments into categories ranging from 0-5 based upon risk.

The most critical (aka “high hazard”) encroachments in need of abatement/correction were ranked as a “0” or “1” (approx. 100 properties) in order for the District to maintain eligibility in the Federal Disaster Relief Program for Emergency Funds (PL84-99), maintain insurability, comply with State and Federal standards, as well as conform to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) requirements for levee recertification at the conclusion of the Natomas Levee Improvement Project (scheduled for completion in 2025).

The remaining properties which are not in compliance with the Operations and Maintenance Manual (O&M) will be addressed over time as documented in the System Wide Investment Framework (SWIF)

Has RD 1000 inspected properties scheduled for landscape modification to confirm that modifying landscaping would allow RD 1000’s Flood Protection Specialist to see the levee slope down to the toe of the levee during inspections? 

Yes.  RD 1000 contracted with an independent engineering firm to survey the Sacramento River Eastside Levee properties in 2019.  That survey identified the properties where encroachments presented the highest hazards and that needed immediate correction.  More than 600 properties were surveyed, of which, approximately 100 were determined to have “high hazard” encroachments needing correction.

Even if landscaping is removed, tall, bushy plants will continue to grow on the levee from seeds blown onto the levee or dropped by birds and other animals. Why is RD 1000 removing vegetation if it will only re-occur? 

Continued maintenance of the vegetation along the Sacramento River Eastside Levee is necessary, not only from a flood control prevention and protection perspective, but also to comply with State and Federal standards.  When the Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB), the State regulatory agency, issues encroachment permits, the State requires that vegetative encroachments on and around the levees conform to the standards of Title 23 (California Code of Regulations) existing at the time of issuance of the permit, and any future modifications of those standards. The CVFPB may revoke these encroachment permits if property owners do not maintain their permitted landscaping/vegetative permits to the standards required by Title 23.

Ongoing maintenance and vegetative control measures are the responsibility of the property owners under their encroachment permits. However, RD 1000 has secured grant funding for 2022, to assist in bringing the 100 or so properties identified as “high hazard” into compliance with the State and Federal vegetation standards.

My property has roadside landscaping that has been in place for many years, including during flood events. Why is a change required now? 

The current effective standards for the levee that are documented in Title 23 and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Operations and Maintenance Manual have not been historically enforced. In addition, State and Federal flood protection and maintenance standards evolve over time as we learn more from each flood event. RD 1000 is tasked with managing its flood control system to continue meeting the high standards expected by the community and regulators. To protect the levee system’s FEMA certification (which in turn impacts flood insurance for Natomas residents, as well as maintains the District’s eligibility for State and Federal funding assistance), properties not in compliance with existing/current regulatory requirements must be addressed. Coming into compliance with State and Federal vegetative standards along the Sacramento River Eastside Levee helps RD 1000 ensure we are doing everything possible to reduce risk for the Natomas Basin and surrounding communities. Furthermore, it positions the District to remain eligible for State and Federal funding assistance (an undeniable benefit to Natomas and the Sacramento Region at large).

What authority/authorities is RD 1000 using to come onto our property and remove landscaping? 

RD 1000 holds a Levee Operation and Maintenance Easement along the Sacramento River Eastside Levee Properties.  Existing encroachments in compliance with issued permits covered by the vegetation variance and in compliance with the Operations and Maintenance Manual (O&M) do not need action at this time.

For the properties that do not meet the requirements, and if the property owner is unwilling to voluntarily bring the encroachments into compliance, RD 1000 would exercise the rights afforded by the levee easement to maintain the private properties in accordance with the requirements of the various Operations and Maintenance Manuals.  However, if RD 1000 is forced to act alone and without the cooperation of the property owner, the actions it takes may not be aesthetically acceptable to the private property owners. For this reason, RD 1000 has worked on behalf of the Sacramento River Eastside Levee property owners, in cooperation with the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA), the Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), to secure a vegetation variance and an update to the O&M manual, which allows for certain types of vegetation to remain so long as it is permitted and maintained in compliance with the O&M manual. Vegetation outside the scope of that variance, and not in compliance with the relevant standards, will need to be modified.

Do the regulations RD1000 is relying on to remove landscaping reflect current conditions (including the new levee), current science, current data, and available technology? 

Yes. This includes the increased flood risk posed by climate change with less snowpack and larger flood forecasts, which heightens the need for a robust levee patrol plan to quickly identify potential levee failures and mobilize a flood emergency response.