Malibu Creek restoration feasibility study resumes, includes study of dam removal

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a feasibility study to restore the Malibu Creek watershed ecosystem, which includes the possibility of removing Rindge Dam.

Part of the study will determine whether removing the Rindge Dam would be best method to return steelhead trout to the upper watershed of Malibu Creek.

By Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times

Last Thursday’s meeting at the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District marked the resurrection of the Malibu Creek Watershed Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Begun in late 1999, the main purpose of the feasibility study is to look at restoring the Malibu Creek ecosystem, terrestrial and aquatic habitat as well as the restoration of the wildlife movement corridor within the watershed. The study will also determine whether removing the Rindge Dam would be the best method to return the steelhead trout to the upper watershed of Malibu Creek. Some conditions that were identified with the dam in the study include endangered species, impaired steelhead habitat, sedimentation behind the dam, which depletes the health of Malibu beaches, existence of nonnative vegetation, water quality and recreation.

Opposed to the removal of the Rindge Dam is Malibu realtor Louis T. Busch. In a letter to the Rindge Dam Subcommittee, Busch wrote, “Besides being a historical place, state and national, the dam in itself meets all of the requirements for a historic monument and should not be dismissed lightly. It is a part of the history of Malibu, and is tied to the Adamson House; and on the grounds on the historical Adamson Home there is presently a two-inch water valve with a round iron tag, which is stamped, “DAM WATER,” which used to irrigate the gardens and agricultural property.”

The main obstacle slowing down the feasibility study was money. The study price tag was $2.1 million dollars with federal funding covering 50 percent of the cost. The California State Department of Parks and Recreation had to get local, nonfederal funding to help cover the other 50 percent share. The California Department of Parks’ Senior Resource Ecologist Suzanne Goode explained the delay as being a function of funding.

“I have to apologize on behalf of my department for some serious bureaucratic glitches that occurred in Sacramento, which resulted in this over a year-long delay,” Goode said. “We now feel that things are running smoothly in terms of funding, documentation, contracts and so forth, so we don’t anticipate any further holdups in that area. We have a new team in place and we’re very confident of them. I think things are going to go very smoothly from now on.”

The State Parks has now obtained funding of $1,032,500 from the following groups and sources to cover the local half of the study’s cost: the Coastal Conservancy, Heal the Bay and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, as well as Prop 40 and Prop 12 funds—$771,500; California Department of Parks and Recreation—$150,000; Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbor—$100,000; Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board—$10,000; and the Mountains Restoration Trust—$1,000.

Prior to the funding delay, the Corps of Engineers had conducted a series of geotechnical, hydraulic, hydrologic and environmental studies of the Rindge Dam. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Ecosystems Planning and Social Sciences Study Manager Jodi Clifford has replaced the original study manager, Jason Shea. Shea now works for the Parks’ Department in New York.

“The process of a feasibility study is methodical. The work of the past two years will go a long way in determining alternative courses of action,” Clifford said.

In 2002, the Corps conducted eight borings into the Rindge Dam. Borings are holes drilled to test sediment quality. At the meeting, the Corps gave findings updates on the geotechnical explorations, hydrology, hydraulics and environmental studies of the Rindge Dam. Included in the findings were that the overall amount of sediment behind the Rindge Dam is 780,000 cubic yards and the quantity of recoverable sand is 250,000 to 310,000 cubic yards (as a reference point, an average dump truck load is five cubic yards). Chemical and leaching tests were conducted on the sediment to determine if its quality was suitable for beach or upland disposal, which showed that the quality was good. However, should the project proceed, the Environmental Protection Agency would require ongoing testing during excavation of the dam.

The Corps of Engineers is optimistic that the study will be completed by February 2005. At that point, all research, tests and analysis will be compiled into a document detailing a range of alternative options to achieve the goals of the project as well as the actions and impacts of each one. The next step would be to design a plan determined by the study results. If the project proceeds smoothly and its contents are agreed upon, implementation of the plan would follow. The group predicts it could take five years to complete from now to implementation.

Southern California Steelhead Coalition program coordinator Dave Pritchett said that because the steelhead trout are endangered, five years could be too late.

“The upper tributaries of the Malibu Creek have spawned and reared steelhead trout for at least 10,000 years. It’s been 78 years since the Ridge Dam was built,” Pritchett said. “In 1998, the steelhead trout was listed as an endangered species by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Since the Ridge dam was built in 1926, the steelhead has not been able to spawn and rear in their habitat in upper Malibu Creek.”

Estimated costs of removing the dam have been as high as $40 million. However, critics say to spend so much money is a waste.

Ronald L. Rindge, descendant of the Malibu pioneering Rindge family who built the dam, strongly opposes its removal. Rindge sent letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating the trout could not exist in the upper watershed above the dam because temperatures are too high during much of the year, and because of poor water quality caused by urbanization in the upper watershed and effluent being discharged from the Tapia sewer treatment plant.

In a previous interview with The Malibu Times, Rindge insisted it would be a “folly to continue to spend money on this project until the water in Malibu Creek is once again pristine and capable of sustaining steelhead below the dam,” which is where, he said, the “trout flourished for 40 years after the dam was built in 1924.”

In early 1999, the Corps concluded in its feasibility determination study that removal of Rindge Dam and other Malibu Creek barriers would allow steelhead to access an estimated 4630 feet of spawning habitat and two linear miles of rearing habitat within the Malibu Creek watershed.

“My group is looking for fish passage to be established in a short period. Just a few years, not like 10 years. The fish can’t wait that long,” Pritchett said.

The 102-foot high, 140-foot wide Rindge dam was erected in 1926, using Malibu Creek to provide an agricultural water supply. Shortly after its completion, the dam’s reservoir began to fill with normal creek sediment. By 1965 the dam was completely full of sediment. The California Department of Water Resources decommissioned the dam for use in 1967.