Topic: Mono Lake

Overview

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 The Guardian

Revealed: a century-old water war is leaving this rural California county in disrepair

Two rural California airports that are crucial to local air ambulance services, firefighting efforts and search and rescue operations are unable to perform critical repairs, blocked by an agency 300 miles away: the city of Los Angeles. The airports are two of several major pieces of infrastructure in California’s Owens valley left in disrepair because of LA policies, an investigation by AfroLA, the Sheet and the Guardian reveals. Los Angeles has owned large swaths of Inyo county, where the Owens valley is located, for more than a century. With ownership of the land comes rights to its water – water that is key to servicing the thirsty metropolis of 3.8 million people. Aqueducts carrying water from Inyo and neighbouring Mono county to LA provided 73% of the city’s water supply last year.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: Water decision by Los Angeles expected to help Mono Lake

City leaders in Los Angeles have announced plans to take a limited amount of water from creeks that feed Mono Lake this year, a step that environmentalists say will help build on a recent rise in the lake’s level over the last year. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said it plans to export 4,500 acre-feet of water from the Mono Basin during the current runoff year, the same amount that was diverted the previous year, and enough to supply about 18,000 households for a year. Under the current rules, the city could take much more — up to 16,000 acre-feet this year. But environmental advocates had recently urged Mayor Karen Bass not to increase water diversions to help preserve recent gains and begin to boost the long-depleted lake toward healthier levels. They praised the decision by city leaders as an important step.

Related Sierra Nevada watershed stories: 

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Los Angeles chooses to preserve Mono Lake level gains—will not increase diversions this year

“Planned export is 4,500 acre-feet”—that is the much-anticipated decision from Los Angeles on water diversions from the Mono Basin this year. This means Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) diversions will not increase from last year, even though existing rules would allow DWP to quadruple their exports from the Mono Basin. This is good news for Mono Lake, because the decision will help preserve the five feet of recent wet year lake level gains. Thanks and credit for this decision go to Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass for her leadership, city council and agency leaders, community leaders for speaking up for environmental sustainability, and citywide investment in water resilience such as stormwater capture and other local water conservation measures. It follows a request by the Mono Lake Committee and a diverse coalition of supporters in March to not increase diversions. 

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Will LA take more Mono Lake water?

Last year was notably wet, raising Mono Lake five feet—and creating a conundrum. Under rules written three decades ago, the lake’s rise over the 6,380-foot elevation threshold means that on April 1, 2024, the maximum limit on water diversions from Mono Lake increased nearly fourfold. Yet decades of evidence show that increasing water diversions will erode the wet year gains, stopping the lake from reaching the mandated healthy 6,392-foot elevation. This flaw in the water diversion rules, now obvious after 30 years of implementation, has real-world results: Mono Lake is a decade late and eight feet short of achieving the healthy lake requirement. The California State Water Resources Control Board plans to examine this problem in a future hearing. 

Aquafornia news Food and Environment Reporting Network

In California, a native people fight to recover their stolen waters

When Noah Williams was about a year old, his parents took him on a fateful drive through the endless desert sagebrush of the Owens Valley—which the Nüümü call Payahuunadü—in California’s Eastern Sierra. Noah was strapped into his car seat behind his mother, Teri Red Owl, and his father, Harry Williams, a Nüümü tribal elder who loved a teachable moment. “Hey look—that’s our water!” he liked to tell Noah whenever they drove past the riffling cascades of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. … In a state shaped by water grabs, drought emergencies, and “pray for rain” billboards, Payahuunadü is the locus of California’s most infamous water war—the fight between Payahuunadü residents and the city of Los Angeles, over 200 miles away. … Around 1904, Los Angeles city officials came up with a plan to take the valley’s water for themselves.

Related saline lake articles: 

Video

A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

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.

Publication

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.

Publication California Water Map

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.