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.

El Niño delivers more drought to the Eastern Sierra

Despite a strong El Niño and recent rain and snow in California, drought conditions continue to plague the Eastern Sierra and Mono Lake. As of March 16 extreme and exceptional drought conditions persist in Mono and Inyo counties, a drought that is now in its fifth year. Recent winter storms brought very little precipitation east of the Sierra crest and the outlook for the rest of March looks generally dry.

Extreme and exceptional drought conditions persist up and down the Eastern Sierra and throughout a large portion of California.

This means that many precipitation measuring stations east and west of Highway 395 will end up between 40% and 75% of normal for April 1. The one exception and bright spot is Mammoth Pass, where the April 1 water equivalent looks to be very close to 100% of normal. Bishop is the poster child for the rain shadow, where a mere 1.81 inches of water will land at 28% of normal. These are the extremes; most snow and rain gauge locations will probably fall between 37% and 77% of normal.

Gem Pass, the most important snow sensor in the Rush Creek drainage, will end the winter season somewhere close to 75% of normal, while Cain Ranch, near Highway 395 and Highway 158, will greet April 1 close to 50% of normal. Numbers like these nearly guarantee that the level of Mono Lake will drop yet again in 2016.

The drought continues toward the south. Los Angeles, as of March 16, has logged only 7.9 inches of rain, less than half of its typical April 1 amount.

April and May might yet bring meaningful precipitation, but it’s clear that the multi-year water deficit in the Eastern Sierra will continue.

Precipitation conditions in the Eastern Sierra compliments Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
Precipitation conditions in the Eastern Sierra as of March 16. Source: Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.


  1. Governor Jerry Brown, when announcing the state’s water restriction mandates last year, also stated that California could handle an influx of 10 million additional residents. The governor can be disingenuous at times.

  2. Moonbeam Brown should save himself a trip to the doctor and check himself for polyps.
    Seeing as how his head is so far up his butt and all.

  3. It hurts my heart to think of what this weather is doing to the Pacific Flyway. All those migrating birds with fewer and fewer places to rest and refuel. . .

  4. Seems to me we ought to be investing in more water storage instead of a train to nowhere that no one will ride. I realize additional water storage will not ease the conditions in the Eastern Sierra. However, additional water storage could mitigate the amount drawn from the Mono Basin and Owens Valley. I think that could be a win-win for all concerned. Other than the Metropolitan Water District, no other agency in CA has added new water storage since the New Melones Dam was finished in 1977. The system is there to move water to SOCAL, all we need is the will to add storage. We cannot control weather but we can deal with the effects.

  5. Yes indeed Gov Brown is deluded. 10 M more inhabitants of CA?? How removed from reality can one be? Apparently fairly removed considering Gov Brown refuses to stop the grossly irresponsible draining of the CA aquifer system in the San Joaquin Valley. Those large almond growers make such great campaign donations.. No worries about the extreme drought in the SJV. No worries about the billions of dollars of infrastructural damage resulting from the collapse of various sections of the SJV underground aquifer. No worries the private wells on the nut farms can pump till the aquifer goes dry. The Gov is just fine socializing the losses and privatizing those water profits… For the tiny group of Corporate nut growers… All the while pretending he’s an environmentalist…

  6. Why on earth are we (as a society) flushing toilets with drinking water? Houses and buildings should all be replumbed to use gray water (from showers, sinks, dish washers, clothes washers, etc) to flush toilets. In other words, use the water twice before it departs the building. Vast amounts of water could be saved by changing plumbing. Filter the gray water, pump it back up to a holding tank above the toilets or in the attic, and use it a second time. This would solve many water problems.