A rushing blue gray stream twists through a gray hilly landscape of sagebrush, with greener vegetation along the water.

DWP Commission approves modification of Grant Lake Reservoir facilities, advances stream restoration

On April 27, 2021 the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) Board of Commissioners voted to adopt the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) on the Grant Dam modernization project—a key component of the 2013 Stream Restoration Agreement signed with the Mono Lake Committee and others, and an essential ingredient to moving forward with the State Water Board’s highly anticipated stream restoration amendments to DWP’s water licenses.

Today’s action by the Commissioners will allow for science-driven stream restoration in the Mono Basin to advance in order to heal the damage done in the past by excessive water diversions. The new restoration measures will deliver a healthy future for 20 miles of Rush, Lee Vining, Parker and Walker creeks and their fisheries, streamside forests, birds, and wildlife.

A key component of the MND is the Grant Dam spillway modification, which will take infrastructure designed 100 years ago for the continuous and total diversion of Rush Creek, and transform it into 21st century green aqueduct infrastructure that can meet aqueduct needs while at the same time operating in a way that restores the health of Rush Creek.

“The approval of the environmental documents marks yet another step in our mission to contribute to the environmental restoration and prosperity of the Mono Lake area,” said Cynthia McClain-Hill, President of the DWP Board of Water & Power Commissioners. “We are proud to play a hand in implementing the infrastructure necessary to further protect California’s natural resources and ecosystems.”

Mono Lake Committee Executive Director Geoff McQuilkin made a presentation in support of MND approval, highlighting the opportunity to put century-old aqueduct infrastructure to work healing the damage of past excessive water diversions. Stream Restoration Agreement party California Trout also spoke in support of approval, as did Mono County Supervisor Bob Gardner and the Mono Lake Kutzadika’a Tribe.

There was some confusion when the DWP staff presentation about stream restoration became muddled with the important, but separate, issue of the restoration of Mono Lake. The State Water Board in 1994 mandated raising Mono Lake to a sustainable management level, and the lake remains well below that requirement today, which is a concern in this drought year. However, lake level issues are a separate matter from the stream restoration actions that are currently under consideration.

The Mono Lake Committee commends the Commissioners for keeping the MND moving forward and voting to approve it today. The next step in the process will be at the State Water Board, which is expected to move quickly to mandate the new stream restoration requirements now that the MND is complete. It’s an exciting day of restoration progress for Mono Lake’s tributary streams!

Top photo by Robbie Di Paolo.