KBUU News: Rindge Dam Demolition Moves Closer: State Plans Around 65,000 Truck Traffic Up Las Virgenes Road

Written by on April 25, 2023


The controversial Rindge Dam removal project is moving into its pre-construction, engineering, and design phase, inching the state and federal governments closer to an approximate $347 million project to restore the Malibu Creek ecosystem and the endangered steelhead salmon that breed in the creek.

California State Parks on Monday announced it had picked one of the alternatives for removing the 99-year-old dam and removing as much as 780,000 cubic yards of rock, sand and dirt that filled up the reservoir.

About 278,000 cubic yards of that would be clean sand, that would be taken by truck up Malibu Canyon-Las Virgenes Road, west on US 101, and then on surface streets in Ventura to the harbor there. Barges would then deliver the sand to Malibu Surfrider beach, where it would be mixed with water and pumped ashore to bolster the erosion-battered beach.

The remaining 502,000 cubic yards of sediment, too rocky to place on a beach, will be deposited in the Calabasas Landfill. 

No estimate was given for the number of trucks, but with a large dump truck able to haul 10-14 cubic yards of material, trucking 780,000 cubic yards would mean between 55,700 and 78,000 truckloads of material to be trucked out of Malibu Canyon and through Calabasas. The material would go either to the Lost Hills landfill for rocks, or Ventura Harbor for sand, over seven years.

They state announced Monday it had approved that plan, one of several alternatives set forth in an Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Report in 2018. The department, along with scientists and consultants and the advocacy group California Trout, will now conduct baseline biological surveys, hydrology/hydraulic modeling and flood risk assessment, engineering plans, environmental permitting, public outreach, and other project studies to advance the project to a 90% level of design.

Removing the dam, and removing eight upstream barriers along Malibu, Las Virgenes and Cold creeks, will restore creek ecosystem functions and open 15 additional miles of stream habitat for the endangered southern California steelhead fish. The project will also improve public safety by removing the obsolete dam, where serious injuries and fatalities have occurred from park visitors jumping off the dam’s spillway.

Because the dam filled up in 70 years ago, removing it is not expected to increase flooding in the Serra Estates residential and Cross Creek shopping areas, or the Malibu Lagoon and Malibu Colony, which sit downstream.

Wildlife officials said removing the dam and the upstream barriers will help the recovery of southern California steelhead and benefit countless other species.

The exact cost is not spelled out in the environmental documents, but a figure of $347 million is listed as a high estimate. The preferred alternative would have the dam removed over seven years, with up to 58 trucks a day hauling material up Lamb Canyon-Las Virgenes Road from two new haulage roads to be blasted into the side of the canyon, north of the Malibu Canyon Road tunnel. 

The sand will be taken by truck up Los Virgenes Road to the 101 freeway, then 40 miles west on the 101, to the Ventura harbor.  There, the trucks will unload the sand on barges… which will be towed down to the Malibu pier.

The sand will then be mixed with water, and pumped ashore on the sand starved beaches near the pier.

Tracking the sand south through the Malibu Canyon tunnel and depositing it at the Malibu pier it was ruled out for logistical reasons.

Malibu’s Rindge Dam and the Matilija Dam on the Ventura River, near Ojai, are both viewed as critical impediments to restoring habitat for the steelhead.

“By reconnecting Malibu Creek and its tributaries located high in the Santa Monica Mountains to Malibu Lagoon, this project implements a rare opportunity for Summit-to-Ocean restoration within an undeveloped canyon remarkably close to downtown Los Angeles. Restoration will support recovery of Southern steelhead and benefit countless other local species,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of California Trout, in a news release.

The project began in 1992, when the U.S. House of Representatives commissioned the Malibu Creek Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study to improve the Malibu Creek watershed and Malibu shoreline. The Army Corps of Engineers and State Parks completed a joint integrated feasibility report in 2018, which presented several alternatives.

California State Parks selected its preferred project alternative.  The target date for completion of the PED phase is March 2026. The project is estimated to create 1,887 jobs statewide and $157 million in gross regional product during the construction phase.

The project is important to support, according to Julie Turrini, who leads the Open Rivers Fund—a philanthropic program of Resources Legacy Fund (RLF) focused on dam removal and river restoration in the American West.  Her quote was distributed by California State Parks.

“Removing Rindge Dam means getting rid of an obsolete dam that has become a significant safety hazard to the community and park visitors, while opening up nearly 20 miles of quality habitat for an important endangered species and helping restore some of the most famous beaches in the world.

“That’s a pretty great set of results to come from one project and RLF is thrilled to be part of this collaborative effort,” said Turrini.

A public workshop is being scheduled in the coming months to provide project information and invite public feedback, comments, and questions on the PED phase.

Additional community events will be added for public and student education. These will include community outreach programs about ecosystem restoration. In consultation with the Pipimaram (Fernandeño Tataviam), mitsqanaq’n (Ventureño Chumash) and Tongva (Gabrielino) people, information will be shared about their traditional lands and cultural legacies.

The project will also create an interpretive site at the Sheriff’s Overlook on Malibu Canyon Road to share with the public the transformation of Malibu Creek and document the historical significance of Rindge Dam.

Funding for the PED phase of the project was included in the 2021-22 State Budget through a grant administered b the Wildlife Conservation Board. Additional funding has been provided by RLF.

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