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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
PUMPING NEAR SCOTT RIVER IN SISKIYOU COUNTY SPARKS APPELLATE
CASE THAT EXTENDS PUBLIC TRUST TO SOME GROUNDWATER; EXPLORE
MAPS AND GUIDES TO LEARN MORE
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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%.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.