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LA’s Mono Basin water license revision is underway

March 18th, 2014 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Last year, the Mono Lake Committee completed an innovative Stream Restoration Agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP), California Trout, and the Department of Fish & Wildlife that ensures a healthy future for Mono Lake’s tributary streams and their fisheries, wildlife, birds, and streamside forests (see Fall 2013 Mono Lake Newsletter).

After celebrating the Agreement last September atop the Grant Lake Reservoir Dam and along Rush Creek, the Committee turned immediately to the daunting list of tasks needed to actually implement the Agreement’s restoration actions.

Last fall DWP gathered core samples at the Grant Lake Reservoir spillway to begin geotechnical analysis for the new Grant Outlet. Photo by Geoff McQuilkin.

First: revise the rules
The California State Water Resources Control Board is the ultimate authority controlling DWP’s water rights in the Mono Basin, and the Agreement is the outcome of a discussion process that it asked the parties to conduct. Now it must review the Stream Restoration Agreement, determine its adequacy, and prepare new water licenses for DWP that incorporate its terms.

The task of taking all existing license requirements—including key provisions unaffected by the Agreement, such as the rules for Mono Lake’s management level—and incorporating the Agreement provisions is a difficult one, especially given that existing license requirements are spread across a variety of documents, including State Water Board decisions and orders, official correspondence, scientific reports, and compliance materials.

The Committee’s job is to make sure that nothing is lost in translation, including the Agreement provisions, but also all the rest of the license terms that protect Mono Lake, chart restoration activities, and set rules for DWP operations.

The time-intensive effort for staff, attorneys, and consultants is well worth it. It is critical that the rules and requirements for DWP in the Mono Basin—which stretch beyond 50 pages in length—are clear, complete, accurate, and easily enforceable in the future.

Then: make it happen
Many steps to implement the restoration provisions of the Agreement lie ahead. Some have to wait until the State Water Board officially issues a new water license to DWP, but the Committee and Agreement parties are already getting others underway.

Grant Outlet studies: DWP put crews in the field late last year to gather core samples in the future Grant Lake Reservoir Outlet construction area, kicking off geotechnical design work.

New monitoring procedure: The new Monitoring Administration Team mechanism for overseeing stream, lake, and waterfowl monitoring has to be created. This is a critical program, and the Committee has an Agreement-mandated oversight role to play.

New aqueduct operations plan: The Committee’s experts will work closely with DWP to be sure the State Water Board’s interlinked stream, lake, reservoir, and export rules are all part of the plan.

Adaptive management: The Stream Scientists will use coordinating procedures to adjust timing, magnitude, and duration of streamflows for maximum ecological benefit based on their expertise and on new information that comes in via the monitoring program.

Grant Outlet design and construction: DWP has a series of deadlines in 2014 and 2015 regarding design and construction plans, environmental analysis, and permitting. The outlet should be constructed and operational in 2018.

A new era of restoration
When the Committee set out to save Mono Lake in 1978, the streams were already dry. Scientific research has revealed how critical the streams are—more than mere channels to carry water from the mountains to the lake, they are lifelines for fisheries, streamside forests, and bird populations. For the restoration of the Mono Basin to reach its full potential, the streams must be restored in harmony with Mono Lake.

The Agreement spells out these specific steps that must be taken in order to modernize the aqueduct, but it is still just a plan on paper. The Committee is moving full steam ahead in the process of translating that plan into physical reality on the ground.

This post was also published as an article in the Winter & Spring 2014 Mono Lake Newsletter.

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