Schwarzenegger Declares Emergency Over Levee System

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday for California's levee system, a step administration officials said would help speed up repairs to 24 flood-prone sites.

"In order to protect ourselves we need to move quickly and address all of these sites and repair them before the next flood season," said Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources.

Officials said the declaration would allow the state to waive environmental and contracting laws in making the repairs and open up emergency funding as part of an attempt to complete repairs before the next flood season.

"If we did this through normal funding and normal procedures it probably would take us three to four years," Snow said.

Most of the sites are along the Sacramento River system, and a few are in the northern Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Snow added.

The declaration also allows the state to make repairs to other sections of levee found to be in severe need of maintenance in addition to the 24 mentioned by Snow.

Cost of the work is estimated to be between $75 million and $100 million.

State officials said they also needed a federal declaration suspending federal environmental laws to quickly do the repair work.

"If for some reason the feds are slow to act, this state declaration will still allow us to move more expeditiously in terms of contracting and making money available more quickly," Snow said in a conference call with reporters.

But he added, "The feds have an obligation and we expect them to follow suit."

Announcement of the declaration comes as the governor is asking the Legislature to approve $68 billion in bond measures to help pay for a variety of public works projects, including flood control improvements.

Snow said the administration didn't want to wait for lawmakers and voters to rule on the governor's proposals.

Snow also said the announcement wasn't an attempt to put political pressure on lawmakers to adopt Schwarzenegger's proposals instead of alternatives they favor.

"Sit down with me and look at photos of these erosion sites and look at the homes behind these erosion sites," he said. "It's really dramatic how we have underinvested" in levee maintenance.