Topic: Mono Lake


Mono Lake

Mono Lake is an inland sea sitting near the border of the Nevada state line, east of Yosemite National Park. It was the target of a major environmental battle between the 1970s and the 1990s.

The lake has a surface area of about 70 square miles, is the second largest lake in California and one of the oldest in North America. Its salty water occupies former volcanic craters and is highly alkaline. 

Los Angeles began diverting water from Mono Lake tributaries in the 1940s, extending the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Owens Valley. Forty years later, the water level of the lake had dropped more than 40 feet to threaten wildlife (shrimp and birds) and uncover stretches of the lake bed, which in dust storms stirs up toxic dust.

In 1983, the California Supreme Court held the public trust doctrine applied to Los Angeles’ rights to divert water from Mono Lake’s feeder streams. In 1991, a superior court halted LADWP’s water exports. Restoration is underway to increase the water level by 20 feet by 2021.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Monster avalanche has buried major California highway

If it was just another avalanche, residents of California’s Sierra Nevada might yawn. Winters in the mountains are chock full of wobbly snow, especially this winter. But last month’s avalanche just north of the town of Lee Vining, on the Sierra’s east side, was different. It buried a portion of a major U.S. highway, cut off a string of small communities heavily reliant on one another and stranded food deliveries, mail and even people. For weeks, road crews have been struggling with how to get rid of it.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: California must intervene on Mono Lake water dispute with L.A.

Even with winter’s remarkable rainfall, Mono Lake will not rise enough to reduce unhealthy dust storms that billow off the exposed lakebed and violate air quality standards. Nor will it offset increasing salinity levels that threaten Mono Lake Kutzadika’a tribe’s cultural resources and food for millions of migratory birds. Any gain Mono Lake makes surely won’t last due to the [Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's] ongoing diversions….If DWP won’t voluntarily cooperate in finding a way to protect Mono Lake, then the State Water Board needs to step up and save Mono Lake – again.
-Written by Martha Davis, a board member for the Mono Lake Committee.

Aquafornia news Grid

The Great Salt Lake may turn into a toxic dust bomb. Can we stop it?

In many ways, Owens Lake — which dried up early last century when the city of Los Angeles began diverting the lake’s water supply to a major aqueduct — is a cautionary tale and a harbinger of disasters to come. Climate change is altering patterns of drought and rainfall across the world, and demand for water is growing. Just 500 miles from Owens Lake, Utah’s Great Salt Lake is drying rapidly and creating another stream of toxic dust. And while Owens Lake has finally managed to get its air pollution problems in check, it came at enormous cost. In a sense, it is lucky that there is such an example already out there, if only to demonstrate how important it will be to avoid a similar fate.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: DWP’s “new water war” even bigger than LA Times suggests

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times article, “LA’s new water war: Keeping supply from Mono Lake flowing as critics want it cut off,” on the State Water Board’s Mono Lake workshop left readers and workshop attendees, well … wondering. Print space and attention spans are always tight, but the article missed information key to understanding the issue at Mono Lake, the diversity of voices calling Mono Lake protection, and the water supply solutions that are right at hand for Los Angeles. The State Water Board’s five-hour workshop was attended by 365 people, and 49 of the 53 public commenters spoke in support of raising Mono Lake. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

L.A.’s new water war: Keeping supply from Mono Lake flowing as critics want it cut off

With its haunting rock spires and salt-crusted shores, Mono Lake is a Hollywood vision of the apocalypse. To the city of Los Angeles, however, this Eastern Sierra basin represents the very source of L.A.’s prosperity — the right to free water. For decades, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has relied on long-standing water rights to divert from the streams that feed this ancient lake as part of the city’s far-flung water empire. But in the face of global warming, drought and lawsuits from environmentalists, the DWP is now facing the previously unthinkable prospect of ending its diversions there. In the coming months, the State Water Resources Control Board will decide whether Mono Lake’s declining water level — and the associated ecological impacts — constitute an emergency that outweighs L.A.’s right to divert up to 16,000 acre-feet of supplies each year.

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

California water board urged to declare emergency at Mono Lake

California authorities face renewed pressure to preserve the valuable salty waters of the Mono Lake — as despite recent rainfall, a historic drought and demands from the Los Angeles area have depleted it. In a workshop Wednesday, the state Water Resources Control Board discussed Mono Lake’s current conditions amid the impacts of severe drought and ongoing diversions. Mono Lake is an ancient, naturally saline lake at the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada, with a surface area of 70 square miles. It is fed by several rivers and hosts a unique ecosystem and critical habitat for millions of migratory birds. That includes California gulls, whose nesting population on lake islands has steadily declined for the last 40 years due to low water levels, increasing coyote populations and human interference.

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Aquafornia news Inside Climate News

Mono Lake tribe seeks to assert its water rights in call for emergency halt of water diversions to Los Angeles

Against the backdrop of a severe drought linked with global warming, conservation advocates and Native Americans in California are calling for a temporary emergency stop to all surface water diversions from Mono Lake, contending that continuing to drain the watershed, along with the long-term drought, threaten critical ecosystems, as well as the Kootzaduka’a tribe’s cultural connection with the lake. In a pair of letters written in December 2022, the Mono Lake Committee and California Indian Legal Services claimed that Mono Lake’s water has dropped to a level requiring emergency action, and asked that all surface water diversions be curtailed until the lake’s elevation gets closer to an elevation of 6,392 feet. That was set as a protective level for Mono by the state in 1994, but the lake has never come close to reaching it. The emergency request will be considered on Feb. 15 during a public workshop arranged by the California State Water Resources Control Board.

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This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.


Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law
Updated 2020

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of California water rights.

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Layperson’s Guide to California Water
Updated 2021

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to California Water provides an excellent overview of the history of water development and use in California. It includes sections on flood management; the state, federal and Colorado River delivery systems; Delta issues; water rights; environmental issues; water quality; and options for stretching the water supply such as water marketing and conjunctive use. New in this 10th edition of the guide is a section on the human need for water. 

Maps & Posters California Water Bundle

California Water Map
Updated December 2016

A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect gift for the water wonk in your life.

Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts – including federally, state and locally funded projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects, wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado River.

Aquapedia background California Water Map Layperson's Guide to California Water

Pacific Flyway

The Pacific Flyway is one of four major North American migration routes for birds, especially waterfowl, and extends from Alaska and Canada, through California, to Mexico and South America. Each year, birds follow ancestral patterns as they travel the flyway on their annual north-south migration. Along the way, they need stopover sites such as wetlands with suitable habitat and food supplies. In California, 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost.

Aquapedia background Lakes Public Trust Doctrine

Mono Lake

Mono Lake, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada.

Mono Lake is an inland sea located east of Yosemite National Park near the Nevada border. It became the focus of a major environmental battle from the 1970s to the 1990s.

The lake has a surface area of about 70 square miles and is the second largest lake in California and one of the oldest in North America. Its salty waters occupy former volcanic craters. The old volcanoes contribute to the geology of the lake basin, which includes sulfates, salt and carbonates.

Western Water Excerpt Sue McClurgRita Schmidt Sudman

Remnants of the Past: Management Challenges of Terminal Lakes
Jan/Feb 2005

They are remnants of another time. A time when the Southwest’s climate was much cooler and probably wetter, and large lakes covered vast tracts of land in Nevada, Utah, southeastern Oregon and California’s Eastern Sierra. Beginning some 14,000 years ago, the region’s climate grew warmer and drier, shrinking these lakes’ shorelines and leaving behind an arid landscape dotted with isolated bodies of water including Pyramid Lake, Mono Lake and the Great Salt Lake.

Western Water Magazine

Remnants of the Past: Management Challenges of Terminal Lakes
January/February 2005

This issue of Western Water examines the challenges facing state, federal and tribal officials and other stakeholders as they work to manage terminal lakes. It includes background information on the formation of these lakes, and overviews of the water quality, habitat and political issues surrounding these distinctive bodies of water. Much of the information in this article originated at the September 2004 StateManagement Issues at Terminal Water Bodies/Closed Basins conference.