Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

A Mono Lake anniversary

State Water Board vote to protect Mono Lake, September 28, 1994
State Water Board vote to protect Mono Lake, September 28, 1994. Archive photo.

Today is September 28, a day of great significance to Mono Lake!

Check your Mono Lake Calendars … that’s right, today is the anniversary of the State Water Resources Control Board vote on Decision 1631—the decision that protected Mono Lake by ending the excessive diversion of water to Los Angeles.

It’s easy to remember where I was exactly 18 years ago today since I was the Committee’s photographer and Newsletter editor at the time. That put me in Sacramento to see the cheerful proceedings, the broad coalition (including Los Angeles) press conference of support, and most importantly the celebrations of  Mono Lake advocates.

Water Board vice-chair Marc Del Piero said, at the vote’s conclusion, “Today we saved Mono Lake.” Biologist Eldon Vestal reflected on the improbability of achieving such a landmark victory: saving the lake and streams, he said, seemed like “grabbing for a bite out of the moon.”

Wherever you are today, take a moment to celebrate for Mono Lake. Yes, we’ve got a long way to go, but it is down a road of lake restoration and stream health recovery that leads to a bright future indeed.


  1. We were traveling that day in Yellowstone National Park, but knew it was happening and the moment was in our thoughts. When the bison calves started jumping around like little kids, we figured they were celebrating (wasn’t the whole world?) 18 years already! Who’d have thought the lake would still be so far from 6392 feet above sea level.

  2. Yes, who’d have thought the lake would be so far…It seems reasonable to say the lake may never reach 6392 under the present scheme; it looks very much as though, after some initial rise, a new equilibrium has been reached. An Endorheic Basin like Mono can’t really spare ANY water just as a Pig can’t spare any ribs.
    My first overnight at Mono was in September of 1994 when I stayed at what was once the “Sky Blue Motel” and enjoyed conversing with the Late Bob Stephan.
    As year 20 approaches the time is coming when pressure needs to be brought to bear for reducing diversions by 6-8K acre feet if further rises can be expected and, furthermore, the annual diversions really have to be based on individual annual run-off rates….

  3. Thanks Adrian for your insightful comments. We have been tracking this, especially over the last two years since Great Basin produced its 2010 PM10 SIP update asking similar questions. Up until 6 months ago, there was still a chance that with a repeat of early 1980s hydrology, the lake would reach 6391 (the post-transition trigger level) by September 28, 2014. The dry year of 2012 guarantees (based on historical hydrology) that will not happen. As a result, we are now assuming there will be a hearing in two years on the need for reducing or eliminating exports in order to raise the lake faster.

    As for your point about the Mono Basin not being able to spare any water, the hydrologic modeling used in Decision 1631 appears to have been quite reliable, although no model is perfect. All available evidence shows the lake has not stabilized and will still reach the 6391 trigger, albeit over a longer period of time. Once that level is reached, annual runoff rates (as well as any changes in climate) will have a larger effect on annual exports.

  4. We first started visiting Lee Vining just before Decision 1631 came out. At the time the attitude seemed to be “yeah – we won – now the lake will jump back to 6392 in no time flat!” Clearly nature has spoken and we are 10-ish feet away from the goal. My concern for the upcoming 2014 review of the decision is that DWP will fire up their PR fog machine and go back to the “not now, not ever, and litigate forever” mentality. I am afraid that we all have to be ready for a big fight. It will take the time, talents, and treasure of everyone to preserve the goals of 1631and to make the changes necessary to achieve those goals.
    I am delighted for what has been accomplished so far but fear another Storm Over Mono.