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.

Defending the public trust at Mono Lake

2018 Defender of the Trust Peter Vorster. Photo by Andrew Youssef.

The California Supreme Court begins its landmark 1983 Mono Lake decision with these powerful words: “The public trust is an affirmation of the duty of the state to protect the people’s common heritage of streams, lakes, marshlands and tidelands…”

Every other year, to celebrate the history of the public trust at Mono Lake, we organize a special three-day Defense Trust Weekend for the Mono Lake Committee’s high donors. The weekend is full of field trips, good food, and time spent with fellow Mono Lake enthusiasts and Committee Board and staff.

This year we had an open house in the Committee office, a Rush Creek tour with experts including State Water Board stream scientists, a picnic lunch at the Mono Basin Outdoor Education Center, a wine tasting, silent auction, and dinner at The Mono Inn, natural history walks in the fall colors, a 40th anniversary storytelling roundtable, and a Naming Mt. Thoreau book reading with contributors including Gary Snyder.

2018 Defender of the Trust

The focal point of the weekend was the presentation of the Defender of the Trust Award, which celebrates individuals who champion Mono Lake and advocate for the public trust. This year’s recipient was hydrologist and hydrogeographer Peter Vorster.

Peter created the first water balance model that comprehensively accounts for all the hydrologic elements that interconnect to determine the level of Mono Lake. This model was a vital component of answering fundamental protection questions about lake level during the Committee’s litigation-heavy early years, and is still the gold standard for the ever-critical task of lake level forecasting.

Peter has stayed deeply involved with the Committee’s work—from analyzing aqueduct operations and forecasting the lake level to looking at the multi-year big picture of a lake on the rise. Peter’s extraordinary passion for Mono Lake and its tributary streams—and the science that goes into making informed resource management decisions about them—is a key element in making the protection of Mono Lake and its public trust resources possible.

Vorster Center for Mono Basin Hydrology

After heartfelt speeches celebrating Peter’s contributions, 2016 Defenders of the Trust Bryan Wilson and Patrick Flinn announced their generosity and leadership in raising more than $50,000 to launch a new Mono Lake Committee initiative: the Vorster Center for Mono Basin Hydrology.

The Vorster Center is not a physical space, but a collaboration focused on science, research, data collection, modeling, analysis, forecasting, and real-world application of Mono Lake and Mono Basin hydrology.

The Vorster Center will allow the Committee to bring together the brainpower, expertise, tools, and data needed to address the complexities of present-day lake level forecasting and the impacts of climate change specifically at Mono Lake.

Through the Vorster Center, the Committee will be able to pursue critical questions raised by changing conditions: When will the lake reach 6392 feet above sea level? Is it rising on the schedule the State Water Board expected? Are the forecasting tools still producing accurate results? The more we explore these complicated and challenging questions, the better job we can do as stewards of Mono Lake’s restoration and protection.

The announcement of the Vorster Center was the perfect way to launch into the next 40 years of the Committee’s work, and an exciting way to mark this new chapter in the Mono Lake story. If you are interested in learning more about and supporting the Vorster Center, you can do so here.

Many thanks

The Defense Trust Weekend would not be possible without the support of Randy Arnold and entire crew from Barefoot Wine & Bubbly. Special thanks to Mollie Bowling for her generous donation of handmade quilts to benefit the Outdoor Education Center, and the contributors to Naming Mt. Thoreau for the special book reading. And thank you, Defense Trust members, for your loyal and generous support of the Committee’s protection, restoration, education, and science programs.

This post was also published as an article in the Fall 2018 Mono Lake Newsletter (page 12).