updated 4/23/2006 2:40:48 AM ET 2006-04-23T06:40:48

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sharply criticized the Bush administration Saturday for refusing to declare a pre-emptive federal disaster for California’s fragile levees.

President Bush offered California some aid Friday, issuing a rare directive letting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers help with badly needed levee repairs.

“I think the response that the federal government has given us is unacceptable,” Schwarzenegger said. “We need the federal government to come in and help us so we can build the levees as quickly as possible.”

The state would begin strengthening the levees in June regardless of federal help, he said.

“We’re not going to wait for their response,” Schwarzenegger said. “We have seen what happens in New Orleans when people waited for the federal government. Their response was terrible there and we don’t want to be a victim of that.”

Brief meeting
The pointed remarks came a day after the governor met briefly with Bush in San Jose, when Schwarzenegger repeated previous requests for the disaster declaration.

Bush’s chief environmental adviser, James Connaughton, said Friday the kind of declaration Schwarzenegger sought required that a disaster had already occurred.

Pre-emptive disaster declarations are only issued when a catastrophe was imminent, he said.

Bush’s directive allows the Corps of Engineers to accept $23 million in California money for repairs on 29 critically weak levees. Connaughton said more money is likely to flow to California in the future, contingent on congressional action.

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