President Bush's budget for next year calls for more than $200 million to be spent on projects designed to prevent floods and protect drinking water supplies in California.
But none of that money would be spent to shore up the Central Valley's aging flood-control levees along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta - at least not for now.
"Our review of the Delta levee program shows zero money" from the federal government, said Kate Williams, assistant director for policy finance at the California Bay Delta Authority, which oversees several state and federal agencies involved in Delta projects.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested no money to strengthen levees because the agency is in the middle of a six-month study to identify the most pressing problems along the region's 1,100 miles of levees.
Once that study is completed, the corps will present to Congress its findings in an attempt to secure money, said Jason Fanselau, a corps spokesman in Sacramento. Congress authorized $90 million to beef up levees in 2004 when it passed Cal-fed legislation creating a state-federal partnership to protect California's water supply. It takes another act of Congress to actually spend that money.
"There will be opportunity for members of Congress to consider what we're going to find in terms of projects we can recommend," Fansleau said. But he added that in a "war time budget … the competition for federal dollars is tighter now than I've ever seen it."
Last year's Hurricane Katrina showed in grisly detail what can happen when flood-control levees are not properly maintained, and a levee breach along the Delta could have far-reaching effects because 2/3 of California's drinking water flows through the area, Fansleau said.
A state water official said he worked with California Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to request that $6 million for levee improvements and $2 million for another study be included in the president's proposed budget, which the White House released last week. Those requests weren't met, he said.
"I think what it means is that the president doesn't value the Delta," said David Mraz, the Delta Levee program manager for the state Department of Water Resources.
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, has made improving the Delta levees a priority, and it was he and Feinstein who secured the $500,000 last year to fund the Corps of Engineers' study.