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 California Trout

Blog: Major milestone met to protect Mono Basin ecosystem

A major milestone in the effort to protect the Mono Basin ecosystem was reached last week. On October 1, 2021, the California State Water Board approved a comprehensive program to restore four key tributaries to Mono Lake, located in the Eastern Sierra near Yosemite. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) will implement this program, as a condition of its water rights license to withdraw water for transport to its customers in the Los Angeles area. 

Aquafornia news California Water Boards

News release: State Water Board approves new stream restoration measures for Mono Lake Basin

State water officials took a significant step on October 1 toward reversing damage to the Mono Lake Basin from excessive water diversions through major revisions to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) water rights licenses. The changes approved by the State Water Resources Control Board provide significant updates to an existing stream restoration program and will restore instream flows to 20 miles of creek and fisheries habitats in the basin.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Berkeley Law

Blog: Piloting a water rights information system for California

California’s complex water management challenges are growing and intensifying. Systemic stressors like the more frequent and severe droughts and floods driven by climate change are only making it harder to respond. Accordingly, California needs to dramatically improve the ability of local, regional, and State entities to make agile and effective water management decisions. We believe doing so will require enhanced understanding of our water resources and how they align with the needs of a range of agencies and stakeholders. 

Aquafornia news Keep Long Valley Green

News release: Persistent and continuing air quality violations at Mono Lake due to dewatering

The Great Basin Unified Air Polution Control District‘s letter emphasizes how: The historical water diversions by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) from Mono Lake have lowered the lake level and caused the persistent and continuing violations of law regarding the PM10 standards. The only feasible solution is to allow the lake level to rise to inundate the emissive areas of the lake bed. Water savings from Owens Lake dust mitigation efforts would completely offset exports from Mono Lake. 

Aquafornia news Sierra Wave

Mono Lake Kut-za-dika’a Tribe might get official

According to U.S. Congressman Jay Obernolte’s (R-Hesperia) office, last Tuesday, June 1, he introduced a bill, HR 3649, titled the Mono Lake Kutadika’a Paiute Tribal Recognition Act that would grant federal recognition to the Mono Lake Kutzadika’a tribe as a distinct Native American Tribe. The legislation was originally introduced by former Rep. Paul Cook. The bill would address the tribe’s decades-long struggle for indigenous sovereignty and would afford them the services, benefits, and rights provided to federally recognized tribes, says the communique.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

U.S. bill aims to recognize Native tribe in Mono Lake Basin

They were expert hunters, gatherers and basket weavers who lived for thousands of years on a trade route over the Sierra Nevada connecting them with the rest of California. The modern history of the Mono Lake Kutzadika Paiute people is told mostly through economic hardship, displacement and a 150-year fight for federal recognition as a distinct Native American tribe — a step needed to establish a sovereign land base to call home.

Aquafornia news The Pew Charitable Trusts

Blog: More US rivers deserve outstanding designation

In many American communities, rivers irrigate the farms that feed families, quench people’s thirst—rivers are the source of more than two-thirds of the drinking water in the U.S.—sustain wildlife habitat, and provide an economic boost for communities. Yet only a very small portion of those waterways are protected from threats ranging from pollution to damming, which would wreck the water’s natural flow. … California’s Regional Water Quality Control Boards have authority to designate ONRWs but to date have done so for only two bodies of water: Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake. However, the state did initiate an analysis of the Smith River as an ONRW but has not completed the effort. The Smith is a Pacific salmon stronghold.

Aquafornia news California Trout

Blog: CalTrout v. Goliath — a monumental victory at Mono Lake

There are six Mono Lake tributaries to be exact – Rush, Lee Vining, Parker, Walker, Wilson, and Mill creeks. And the fact is Mono Lake never had any surplus water; its fullness has always depended on the amount of water running into it. So as soon as some of that water was cut off, which began in 1941, the Lake started to plummet and the entire ecosystem dependent on those “half a dozen little mountain brooks” soon followed. 

Aquafornia news NBC Los Angeles

DWP begins environmental review of Grant Lake reservoir spillway project

DWP officials said the undertaking of a new spillway gate structure to control flow from the lake through Rush Creek and into Mono Lake will be one of the largest environmental restoration projects in the Mono Basin.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Review of Books

The dark history of Eastern California: A conversation with Kendra Atleework

Kendra Atleework’s new memoir Miracle Country, published in July by Algonquin Books, maps the region of Eastern California where William Mulholland stole the water and terraformed the SoCal landscape into the place we now know.

Aquafornia news CNN Travel

The best lakes in California

California, lake country? While known for its Pacific Ocean beaches and chic coastal towns, the Golden State is also home to many pristine lakes and reservoirs where visitors can soak up the sun and cool off. CNN Travel takes a quick and refreshing look at some of the best lakes in California.

Aquafornia news Sierra Wave

Inyo County loses court case on environmental laws in seeking to take L.A.’s land and water rights

In a ruling published last week, a California Superior Court made a sweeping ruling against Inyo County’s attempted eminent domain takeover of Los Angeles’ land and water rights. The years-long pursuit by Inyo has effectively been sent back to the drawing board and will require not only a complete restart, but also comprehensive environmental review, in order for Inyo to proceed.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Defending the public trust at Mono Lake

The California Supreme Court begins its landmark 1983 Mono Lake decision with these powerful words: “The public trust is an affirmation of the duty of the state to protect the people’s common heritage of streams, lakes, marshlands and tidelands…” … The focal point of the [Defense Trust] weekend was the presentation of the Defender of the Trust Award, which celebrates individuals who champion Mono Lake and advocate for the public trust. This year’s recipient was hydrologist and hydrogeographer Peter Vorster.

Aquafornia news Western Water

Latest Western Water article looks at how court decision could affect groundwater pumping in California


In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling forced Los Angeles to reduce its take of water from Eastern Sierra creeks that fed Mono Lake. It marked a dramatic shift in California water law by extending the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that fed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves are not. Some 35 years later, an appellate court in Sacramento for the first time has concluded that the same public trust doctrine used in the Mono Lake decision also applies to groundwater feeding the navigable Scott River in a picturesque corner of far Northern California.

Aquafornia news Western Water

Friday’s Top of the Scroll:California leans heavily on its groundwater, but will a court decision tip the scales against more pumping?

In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from Eastern Sierra creeks that fed Mono Lake. Some 35 years later, an appellate court concluded the same public trust doctrine that applied in the Mono Lake case also applies to groundwater that feeds a navigable river in a picturesque corner of far Northern California. But will this latest ruling have the same impact on California water resources as the historic Mono Lake decision?

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Thursday’s Top of the Scroll: A changing climate at Mono Lake could mean more dust storms in the Eastern Sierra — or less water for Los Angeles

When dust storms began rising off the dry bed of Owens Lake, authorities in the Eastern Sierra blamed Los Angeles’ thirst. The city had, after all, drained the lake in the 1920s to serve its faucets. Now, as dust kicks up from Mono Lake, authorities in the Eastern Sierra are once again blaming that water-craving metropolis about 350 miles to the south. But this time, they’re also blaming climate change.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: 2018 Mono Lake level forecast

In April, once a new runoff year (April 1 to March 31) has begun, the Mono Lake Committee forecasts what Mono Lake’s level is likely to do over the next year. And the answer? According to our forecast, Mono Lake is likely to drop a little less than a foot.

Aquafornia news San Jose Mercury News

Mystery solved: How flies ’scuba dive’ at California’s famed Mono Lake

In 1862, Mark Twain traveled to Mono Lake, the vast, ancient landmark east of Yosemite National Park famous for its craggy limestone rock formations. Though he nearly drowned trying to cross the 11-mile-long lake in a rowboat during a storm, the author remained captivated by its odd features, especially the swarms of tiny black flies that lined the shore and their unusual behavior.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee The Mono-logue

Blog: New twists as Mono Lake’s level falls — Spotlight on lake level forecasting in 2016

California’s four-year drought has lowered Mono Lake more than five feet. … In this case, another dry winter that pushes the state into a fifth drought year would push new and potentially contentious Mono Lake management issues to the forefront.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Mono Lake’s ecological crisis is a blow to wildlife, L.A. water supply

In recent months, the Department of Water and Power has reduced its take from Mono’s tributaries by more than two-thirds. Still, the 1-million-year-old lake is within two feet of the level that state officials say threatens the alpine ecosystem at the base of the eastern Sierra Nevada.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee The Mono-logue

Blog: How low can they go? Mono Basin streams in the drought

For residents and regular visitors, the expanded exposed lakebed, growing landbridge, and dramatically changing topography of key visitation sites are hard to miss. While less immediately visible, the effects of the drought on the streams of the Mono Basin are no less severe.

Aquafornia news The Mono-logue by the Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Mono Lake’s wet May keeps on keeping on

A week ago, at mid-month, we excitedly were tallying up the already-record-making Mono Basin precipitation totals for May and the rise in Mono Lake. Who would have thought that it would keep raining and snowing—especially during the driest year of one of the worst droughts on record?

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee The Mono-logue

Blog: 2015 will be the driest year on record, by far

Based on precipitation, snowpack, and recent runoff, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) has run its forecasting equations and issued its runoff forecast: 19% of average runoff is expected for April–September, and 25% over the next year—assuming median precipitation falls. 2015 April–September runoff is not only going to be less than 1977, the driest year on record—it is expected to be less than half of 1977’s runoff.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: April 1 lake level means reduced water exports to Los Angeles, more protection for Mono Lake

This morning [April 1] Mono Lake Committee staff met with Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) personnel to conduct the official annual April 1 reading of the lake level together. The consensus: Mono Lake stands at 6379.01 feet above sea level. The lake has declined to a level at which water exports to Los Angeles are, by the terms of the State Water Board’s rules, automatically reduced by 70%.

Aquafornia news The Mono-logue by the Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Farewell Benett Kessler, Eastern Sierra journalist (with video)

Benett Kessler, founder and owner of Sierra Wave Media and a trusted and respected Eastern Sierra journalist, passed away on January 2 after a three-year battle with cancer. … When we were making The Mono Lake Story film several years ago, Benett provided us with historic footage of an early interview she conducted with Committee co-founder David Gaines …

Aquafornia news The Mono-logue by the Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Mono Lake at 20 symposium footage now online

If you weren’t able to attend the Mono Lake @ 20: Past, Present, Future symposium in Sacramento last month, you can now watch all the sessions online from the comfort of your own laptop. You can stream the video footage from the State Water Resources Control Board website.

Aquafornia news Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA)

Water experts to discuss Mono Lake during Nov. 17 symposium

The UC Berkeley School of Law along with stakeholders in Mono Lake will convene a symposium in Sacramento on Nov. 17 to mark the 20th anniversary of the State Water Resources Control Board’s decision to integrate the Water Code, Fish and Game Code and the common law of public trust to protect the lake and its tributary creeks.

Aquafornia news The Mono-logue by the Mono Lake Committee

Blog: ‘Mono Lake at 20′ symposium in Sacramento

Water nerds unite! You’re not going to want to miss this opportunity: the Mono Lake at 20: Past, Present, and Future symposium on November 17, 2014, in Sacramento, California. … Co-sponsors of the event: UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment; UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources; the Water Education Foundation; Mono Lake Committee; California Trout; and the Water and Power Law Group.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Two Mono Basin wildfires in one week

With two wildfires in one week, the Mono Basin is getting hit hard during this tinder-dry early autumn.


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.


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.


Layperson’s Guide to California Water
Updated 2015

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.

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.