Q: Can the government divert a river onto a small branch of the river?
With pilings and levies and dirt with tamerisks growing on them raised up mounds is how the river was diverted onto an old branch of the river. Now river is concentrated onto and runs on the branch which was smaller but now river is widened at least ten times old river and branch
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has considerable authority in its work involving flood protection and the maintenance of public waterways. If you contacted them, it's possible they could advise about the specific legislative authority relied upon for such projects. Good luck
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