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.
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.
As Committee and DWP staff walked to the lake’s edge we all marveled at the signs of a rising lake. “Look how far away the lake gauge is!” “Look at how much water is coming out of this spring!” “Look how wet the shoreline is!” were just some of the comments. It was clear that everyone was happy to see the lake rising.
The lake measured in at an elevation of 6378.3 feet above sea level. In January, the lake level was 6377.1, which means that the lake has risen 1.2 feet, or just shy of 14.5 inches, so far this year.
At the current level, California State Water Board rules allow DWP to export 4,500 acre feet of water in the course of the year. Eventually, when the lake level reaches 6,380 feet, DWP will once again be able to export 16,000 acre feet of water. After a winter of record precipitation, the Mono Lake Committee projects that Mono Lake will rise another 3–4 feet before the 2018 April 1 lake level reading. After half a decade of drought and declining lake level, this is fantastic news that we can all enjoy.