Collaborative solutions could benefit Mono Lake and LA—again

The Mono Lake Committee has long supported Los Angeles’ vision for obtaining the city’s water supplies from local sources, including increased stormwater capture, restoration of LA’s substantial groundwater basins, water efficiency, and increased recycling of its highly treated wastewater.

In fact, 30 years ago we raised more than $120 million in state and federal funds for Los Angeles to invest in the development of water efficiency measures to permanently replace a portion of the stream diversions from the Mono Basin. Those funds were strongly supported by LA community groups, such as our friends at Mothers of East Los Angeles, because they helped make water bills more affordable for low-income residents and simultaneously helped protect Mono Lake.

Now the problem of having sufficient water is once again a shared challenge. With Mono Lake currently too low, air quality, nesting gull safety, and ecosystem health are critical problems. In LA, where record numbers of residents need debt relief and affordable rates on their water and energy bills, drought has necessitated water conservation.

That’s why last spring, the Committee, once again, offered our assistance to the City of Los Angeles. Our proposal was to jointly obtain $60 million in state funding to invest in local water supplies, with a focus on direct installation of water efficiency devices in low-income communities to reduce water bills for these customers while saving water for Mono Lake. Mono Basin benefits would come through a commitment by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) to voluntarily pause stream diversions until Mono Lake reaches the state-mandated 6392-foot elevation, at which time authorized stream diversions could resume, supplementing water supplies developed using the state funds.

We presented our proposal to a wide array of state and city leaders and received strong encouragement to bring the proposal forward in partnership with the city as part of the state’s summer budget negotiations. However, DWP did not agree to join us and so the state did not take action. We are keeping this collaborative proposal on the table because we believe it is the best way to meet the needs of both the people in LA and Mono Lake.

Mono Lake’s ecosystem faces dire conditions. It is disappointing to see that problems we solved decades ago, like coyote predation of the California Gull colony, return as urgent action items. It will be up to the State Water Board to review stream diversion levels at their future hearing. In the meantime, the Mono Lake Committee will continue to pursue collaborative action with LA to support efficient and affordable water services for its residents while implementing the city’s commitment to protect Mono Lake.

Martha Davis is the Committee’s former Executive Director and a current Board member. This post was also published as an article in the Fall 2022 Mono Lake Newsletter. Top photo by Arya Harp: The Los Angeles River.