Wide Support For Rindge Dam Removal — Specifics Cause Divide

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Malibu Creek Ecosystem Restoration Study

It’s an idea that’s been around for well over 25 years: Removing the 100-foot-tall Rindge Dam located three miles up Malibu Creek. Last week, that idea came one step closer to reality when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and California State Parks held a meeting to collect public comments on the recently released “Integrated Feasibility Report (IFR),” a 500+ page document that includes the Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) of removing the dam.

“It’s taken dogged determination for my staff to get to this point. It’s been a long, long process,” Craig Sap, State Parks Angeles District Superintendent, said. 

“We’ve had meetings about this for years upon years, and I think I’ve been on this project longer than just about anybody,” Suzanne Goode, State Parks senior biologist, said. “There were 44 action items to improve the Malibu Creek environment, and many have been completed. But the Rindge Dam is a complete barrier to fish as well as any animal trying to stay next to the stream.

“A keystone species here is the southern steelhead trout,” Goode explained. “It doesn’t die after spawning; it returns to the ocean, and occurs in only three of the Santa Monica Mountain streams — Topanga, Malibu and Arroyo Sequit. There are only about 100 left, and they’re uniquely adapted to warmer water.”

The U.S. House of Representatives originally commissioned the “Malibu Creek Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study” in 1992, requesting a solution that improved the Malibu Creek watershed and the Malibu shoreline. 

The Army analyzed 21 project alternatives that were narrowed down to two — the NER Plan (favored by the Army), and the LPP Plan (favored by State Parks). Any plan to remove the dam involves removing tons of sediment accumulated behind the dam, which amounts to thousands of truckloads of sand and gravel traveling over Malibu Canyon and/or Las Virgenes Road for a period of years.

The NER plan is cheaper because it doesn’t involve removing the dam’s spillway — just the dam itself; and sediment would be trucked directly into the Malibu Pier area. The LPP plan costs more, but includes spillway removal and a very different route for trucks — they’d take the 101 Freeway to Ventura, then barge it down the coast to Malibu shorelines. 

About 15 citizens, many from Malibu, made public comments. None expressed outright opposition to the project; they just expressed questions and concerns. The Army responds to each comment afterward, in writing.

Bob Brager, City of Malibu public works director, also serves as flood plain manager. He expressed concern over the risk of flooding under the Cross Creek Bridge either during or after dam removal, whether anything harmful was in the sediment and who would pay for damage to roadways from heavy truck traffic. 

Malibu Public Works Commissioner Paul Grisanti, speaking for himself, preferred the option that did not have trucks going through Malibu and did not take the sediments to a landfill. He also wanted to know if dam removal would destabilize Malibu Canyon Road.

The head of the Serra Canyon property owner’s association was concerned over the project’s high price tag of $160 million, since there are other fish barriers, including Tunnel Falls and Century Dam, just a little farther upstream. “The project will not open up the whole watershed, so what’s the point of getting out just this one dam?” he asked.

Studies have shown that dams negatively impact the ecology of a river or stream. Sand and sediment don’t flow downstream the way they did before, and the speed and temperature of the water are also changed, which affects all of the plants and aquatic species downstream. 

For that reason, all across the country, dams considered to no longer serve any useful purpose, like the Rindge Dam, are being removed. According to data collected by the nonprofit “American Rivers,” 72 dams were removed in the U.S. in 2016 alone, and from 1912 through 2016, 1,384 dams have been removed. 

There has also been a big push to remove the Matilija Dam near Ojai in order to restore the Ventura River’s ecology and bring back steelhead trout there. In fact, that dam was the subject of the recent documentary “DamNation.”

The Rindge Dam, finished in 1926, was built on the Rindge property and served as a water supply for irrigation and household use in Malibu into the early 1960s, even though it had filled with sediment by the ‘40s. The dam was decommissioned in 1967, and purchased shortly thereafter by State Parks as part of Malibu Creek State Park. 

The Army will accept written public comments until March 27 at Malibu.Creek@usace.army.mil The report can be accessed at www.spl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Projects-Studies/Malibu-Creek-Study/.