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The Mono Lake Committee 2017 Annual Report

Saturday, November 25th, 2017 by Arya, Communications Director
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Each year printed copies of the Mono Lake Committee Annual Report are sent out to Defense Trust level members and Guardians of the Lake monthly-giving club members, but it is has information that is important to members at all giving levels, friends, anyone who is curious, and the general public. So without further ado, click here to see the Mono Lake Committee 2017 Annual Report.

Did you get a yearbook in high school? The Annual Report feels a little bit like the grown-up version of getting the yearbook … (more…)

Refreshing ‘Ologists: Water law plus geology with Craig Jones

Sunday, October 8th, 2017 by Molly, Mono Lake Intern
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This Wednesday, October 11 at 4:00pm is our last Refreshments with Refreshing ‘Ologists presentation of the year. Join us in the Mono Lake Committee gallery to hear from Craig Jones, a geologist at the University of Colorado, about the relationship between water law and geology at Mono Lake and how both have had significant effects on how the lake has evolved over time.

Geologist Craig Jones will talk about how the Sierra Nevada west of Mono Lake affect the climate in the Mono Basin. Photo by Ava Stavros.

Years ago, to acquire water exports from the Mono Basin, Los Angeles used California water laws that first emerged in the goldfields of the western Sierra. These laws allowed for (more…)

Saddlebag Lake Reservoir spills

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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Water courses down the Saddlebag Lake Reservoir spillway, possibly for the first time ever. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

For the first time since at least as far back as 1983, Saddlebag Lake Reservoir on Lee Vining Creek is spilling. This is a rare event—and possibly a first—for the highest lake you can drive to in California.

Saddlebag Dam, at 10,090′ elevation, was built in 1921 to enlarge an existing alpine lake for hydropower generation purposes. The dam was raised and a spillway was added in 1925. The reservoir is oversized compared to the volume of water produced in its watershed, and given the agreement between Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP), which requires it to be very low every spring. It is unclear if it has ever spilled before now. Last week it was inches away from its spillway, at the end of the day on Monday it was very full at 9,400 acre-feet of water, and on Tuesday it spilled! (more…)

Counting snowflakes—all of them: Talking with Dr. Tom Painter about the Airborne Snow Observatory

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Just how much water is contained in the Sierra Nevada snowpack? NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with the California Department of Water Resources and the USDA Agricultural Research Service, have developed the high-tech Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) to answer that question with greater precision and clarity than ever before.

Using a plane with an imaging spectrometer and a precise LIDAR measurement system, ASO scientists can calculate how much water is contained in every square meter of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Photo courtesy of Tom Painter, NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Flying out of nearby Mammoth Lakes, a plane equipped with an imaging spectrometer and an incredibly precise LIDAR laser measurement system has been gathering vast quantities of data that allow scientists to calculate how much water is contained in every square meter of snowpack in the high Sierra. Knowing how much water is stored in the snowpack and waiting to flow down Rush Creek, for example, is incredibly valuable. The details of how ASO works are fascinating and the big-picture implications for Mono Lake and all of California water management are exciting. I talked with ASO Principal Investigator Dr. Tom Painter in May during a break in his schedule between flights, project development, and a roster of presentations worldwide. (more…)

Record winter snowpack melt underway

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Mono Lake, and all of us here at the Mono Lake Committee, have just been through the biggest winter on record. It is an abrupt and welcome end to drought conditions (though not to all the effects of the drought), made all the more enjoyable by the way it crept up unannounced and surprised us with its intensity.

So much snow arrived in the Mono Basin this winter that even ephemeral streams far east of the Sierra flowed with water this spring. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Stories abound of Highway 395 being closed for days, snow blanketing every facet of the Sierra Nevada crest, and backcountry snowfields that measure taller than any building in Mono County. Speculation about an opening date for Tioga Pass—certain to be among the latest ever—is a popular springtime guessing game in town.

So what does it all mean for Mono Lake, its tributary streams, and the operation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct? Here’s the exciting outlook:

Mono Lake on the rise

With a deep snowpack fueling runoff that is forecast at 206% of average, Mono Lake is expected to rise (more…)

April 1 Mono Lake level: 6378.3 feet above sea level and rising

Monday, April 10th, 2017 by Robbie, Restoration Field Technician
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April 1, the beginning of the runoff year, is a particularly important day for Mono Lake. Each April 1 Mono Lake Committee and Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) staff walk down to Mono Lake and read the lake level, together. It is particularly important because it is the April 1 lake level that determines how much water is allowed to be diverted from Mono Basin streams to the City of Los Angeles for the year.

Brian Norris from DWP and Robbie Di Paolo from the Mono Lake Committee read the lake level gauge together on April 1, 2017. Photo by Bartshé Miller.

The first time I participated in one of these April 1 lake level readings was in 2015 when the lake had dropped to a level that triggered a 70% reduction of water exports. The second time, the lake narrowly cleared the level that would have halted water exports altogether. Years of drought lowered the lake and heightened concern over available exports, but this year was different. This year Mono Lake is on the rise. (more…)

Atmospheric river brings approximately six inches of water to Mono Lake so far

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 by Elin, Communications Coordinator
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Mono Lake Committee hydrologists estimate that the series of atmospheric river storms we’ve been experiencing over the last week has brought enough water to the Mono Basin to raise Mono Lake by six inches.

geoff-in-la-times-video

Committee Executive Director Geoff McQuilkin at the shore of a rising Mono Lake. Photo courtesy of Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, this lake level rise is very good news for the Mono Lake ecosystem, and it also means that some water will flow south to Los Angeles in 2017. Before these storms, the lake was low enough that it was looking likely that no water exports would be allowed.

As Committee Executive Director Geoff McQuilkin says in today’s LA Times video, “This event is going to keep the lake protected and it’s going to keep that water flowing to the city.” Thanks, atmospheric river—that’s a win-win!

Highway 395 closed due to blizzard conditions

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 by Elin, Communications Coordinator
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The atmospheric river keeps on giving! For nearly a week now, Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra have been receiving heavy snow and rain, which is great news for these drought-parched areas. But it does bring complications for people living and traveling here.

The Mono Lake Committee is open today, despite Highway 395 being closed. Photo by Lily Pastel.

The Mono Lake Committee is open today, despite Highway 395 being closed. Photo by Lily Pastel.

Highway 395 is closed today from Mammoth Lakes to Bridgeport due to blizzard conditions, which are predicted to last until (more…)

DWP completes this year’s export of 4,500 acre-feet of water from the Mono Basin

Saturday, November 5th, 2016 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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When Mono Lake is between 6377 and 6380 feet above sea level, and the final May lake level forecast (and any subsequent projections) shows that it will stay above 6377 feet, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) is permitted to export 4,500 acre-feet of water that year. Any time Mono Lake falls below, or is projected to fall below 6377 feet, exports must stop.

Photo by Bartshe Miller.

A blustery day in mid-October kicked up clouds of alkali dust over Mono Lake’s eastern shore. Mono Lake may drop below 6377 feet above sea level next year, which means no water may be exported to Los Angeles. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Operations plan guidelines state that the water should be exported late in the summer, and this year, DWP exported this water September through early November, allowing more water to remain in Grant Lake Reservoir during the summer—a good thing that kept the reservoir higher during recreation season and likely kept water temperatures cooler for fish in Rush Creek. (more…)

Mono Lake in another drought year

Sunday, June 19th, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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When the California State Water Resources Control Board protected Mono Lake in 1994 by revising Los Angeles’ water rights in a landmark decision, it linked lake level and water exports together. The closer the lake is to its mandated ecologically sound level, the more water Los Angeles is authorized to export.

This approach, advocated by the Mono Lake Committee to protect Mono Lake and meet real water needs in the city, also works in reverse: the lower the lake, the less water can be exported.

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Last year, with the level of Mono Lake falling due to drought, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) reduced exports by 70%, as required by the State Water Board rules. This year, (more…)

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