Sacramentans soon will understand just how massive the region's biggest modern levee project is as workers this week begin removing 900 trees to make way for construction along the Sacramento River.
About 800 of those trees are native oaks – mostly valley oaks – including some more than 60 inches in diameter.
They may come to symbolize the tightrope that California walks between flood safety and habitat protection.
The trees must go because they're in the footprint of a $619 million project to build giant new levees encircling the Natomas Basin. The project was required by a 2006 U.S. Army Corps ruling that existing levees don't adequately protect the basin's 70,000 residents.
The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency designed new levees up to 300 feet wider to accommodate another Army Corps rule that forbids trees and structures on levees.
This "piggyback" levee design reinforces the existing levee from behind and effectively moves the regulatory profile of the levee away from the river, preserving thousands of trees and allowing more than 100 homes along the water to remain in place.
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