Director, Mark Cowin, and Chief Counsel, Cathy Crothers, have asked that I respond to your letter regarding the Perris Dam Remediation Project.
In 2005, Department of Water Resources (DWR) identified potential seismic safety hazards in the foundation of the dam. While there was no imminent threat to life or property, in the interest of ensuring public safety, DWR lowered the reservoir water level while undertaking the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and designing repairs.
The State wants to bring the lake back to full capacity, and the areas of concern must be retrofitted. That is the purpose of the Dam Remediation Project.
Construction on the project will begin this year and is currently estimated to take about 3 years to complete. Due to the construction being limited to the Bernasconi side of the dam, Bernasconi, Big Rock, and much of the southern side of the park/bike trail will be closed for the entire construction project.
In June of 2014, DWR staff met with representatives of the climbing community, at the site, to discuss concerns regarding the Lake Perris Big Rock climbing resource. The meeting addressed two concerns: 1) Protection of the climbing resources from construction impacts; and, 2) Access to the Big Rock climbing area during construction. We have discussed both concerns internally and with our partners at California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), the department with responsibility of management the State Recreation Area, and we have reached the following conclusions.
First, as demonstrated in DWR’s Final Environmental Impact Report (Final EIR), DWR recognizes the importance of this recreational area and is committed to providing adequate protection to Big Rock and its adjacent staging area, to the greatest extent possible. In fact, protecting this resource was one of the considerations that resulted in DWR’s decision to reroute the permanent haul road north of Big Rock. In response to the June 26, 2014 letter from the Access Fund requesting further protections of the Big Rock climbing area, DWR has prepared and will issue a change order to the construction contractor to adjust the alignment of the temporary haul route to the north to further protect the Big Rock climbing area from any potential construction impacts. We will also place a K-rail barrier along the haul road adjacent to the Big Rock area with a six-foot cyclone slatted fence on top of it. DWR has also received a request to re-route the temporary access for the drilling and blasting equipment to the west side of the hill to limit impacts to the Big Rock staging area. We have not received a submittal from the Contractor depicting their means and methods for installing this access road. We are unable to address this request, until we have that submittal.
Second, access has been requested to the Big Rock climbing area during construction. DWR evaluated the environmental impacts of this project in the Perris Dam Emergency Release Facility EIR. In that document, DWR identified the impact to rock climbing as temporary but significant and unavoidable, and adopted a Statement of Overriding Considerations that was issued on November 18, 2011 by Director Mark Cowin. A Notice of Determination was also filed with the Office of Planning and Research, State Clearinghouse on November 18, 2011.
DWR and DPR have reviewed and considered the proposal for access and determined that access cannot be allowed during the construction period. DWR originally determined that closure of the area was necessary to protect public safety, and, in the interests of site security, combined with concerns regarding the limited access of DPR law enforcement and emergency personnel, to the area. Notwithstanding project changes designed to heighten protection to the rock climbing area, DWR has determined that these changes do not reduce the safety or security risks to the point that access can be accommodated.
While DWR understands and appreciates the importance of this area to the rock climbing community, we hope you can also appreciate that DWR needs to complete this important public safety project in a manner that is safe to the public during the potentially hazardous three year period which will require major rock hauling and heavy construction activities. DPR plans to close the south side of the park, including the Big Rock area, on Wednesday, October 15, 2014. The area will be re-opened to recreational enjoyment once the construction is completed. For additional information on the project and park recreation resources, please visit the website http://www.water.ca.gov/lakeperris.
Joe Royer, Chief
Geotechnical Services Branch
Perris Dam Remediation Project Manager