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Bush Issues Waiver to Help California Levee Repair

President Bush has issued an unusual waiver that will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accept state money for critical levee repairs, a senior Bush administration official said Friday.

In a meeting planned Friday afternoon in San Jose with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bush did not plan to grant the federal disaster declaration the governor sought as heavy rains strained the fragile levee system.

The waiver, plus help with expediting permits and the possibility of future federal funds, were likely in lieu of the declaration, the Bush administration official said.

The kind of pre-emptive disaster declaration Schwarzenegger sought in February is very unusual, and "it doesn't move dirt," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the White House had not announced the decision.

The corps is a branch of the U.S. military and does not often operate with money from states. But Bush has agreed to let about $23 million in California money flow into the corps' bank account to start repairs this summer and fall, the Bush administration official said.

A state official likened it to an advance down payment for the levee work, suggesting California expected reimbursement.

The governor had sought the waiver to speed repairs on 29 levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that need critical repairs to prevent flooding and ensure the reliability of delivering water to cities and farms.

State officials fear that California's fragile levee system could fail in an earthquake or under strain from the unusually heavy rainfall and snow the state has seen this year.