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Reckless Red Tape

This is a tale of bureaucracy to make the head spin and the blood boil: Despite the forecasts for a drenching winter, hundreds of flood control channels in eight Southern California counties are at risk of overflowing because they may not be cleared of dense vegetation before heavy rains arrive.

Seems that some of the channels--designed for the express purpose of whisking away storm water--may have become home to endangered and threatened species like the least Bell’s vireo and the Pacific tree frog. That puts them under the protection of myriad state and federal agencies, each of which must sign off on various permits before crews can clear the vegetation. Some counties have been trying to get permits for nearly two years.

This newspaper has argued in particular for a thoughtful and multifaceted approach to management of the Los Angeles River, which has potential for recreation and wildlife habitat preservation in addition to its flood control role. That potential is not necessarily lost by addressing an emergency need for clearance.

Officials of eight counties--Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Diego, Riverside, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Imperial--are meeting next week with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, which designed and built many of the channels and must approve clearance proposals. The counties, the corps and the appropriate state wildlife agencies should quickly reach an agreement that allows clearance work to begin.

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The first heavy rains may well destroy whatever habitat exists in the channel bottoms and could also put thousands of residents at risk of flooding. Plus, trees and shrubs washed away upstream could pose problems at distant locations as they accumulate and form dams. Protection of endangered and threatened species is important, but so is protecting the safety of thousands of Southern Californians. The task ahead is obvious. Clear the channels.


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