Levees near Sacramento, Calif., fail Army Corp of Engineers inspection

Most levees in the city of Sacramento have technically failed a maintenance inspection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because they are bristling with trees and other structural intrusions. But the city won't be penalized — for now — while long-term solutions are being developed.

Other areas fared even worse: Levee sections in Marysville, Stockton and Lathrop were deemed "unacceptable."

As a result, those levee systems were placed on an "inactive" list that makes them ineligible for federal repair dollars in the event of flood damage.

In Sacramento's case, the decision amounts to a provisional pass.

The inspections focused on maintenance practices and not the strength of the levees.

"Our goal here is really to encourage the local maintaining agencies to fix these deficiencies as quickly as possible," said Meegan Nagy, levee safety program manager at the Corps of Engineers Sacramento District. "It is important for communities to understand: If they live behind a levee, there is always a risk."

Tuesday's news marks another chapter in a policy arena that has become far more confusing in recent years.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the Corps of Engineers began imposing maintenance criteria uniformly across the nation. This meant, in California's case, that previous agreements allowing trees and other intrusions on levees are now called into question.

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