The Mono Lake Committee is thrilled to announce the completion of an innovative agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) that will result in a significant leap forward in restoration of the health of fisheries, streamside forests, birds, and wildlife on 19 miles of Mono Basin streams, all without reducing water exports to Los Angeles.
A key element of the agreement, reached jointly with CalTrout and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, is DWP’s commitment to modernize antiquated aqueduct infrastructure at Grant Lake Reservoir Dam. These structural improvements will give DWP the capacity to meet State Water Board requirements for flows to Rush Creek and Mono Lake.
“The science is in, the plan is written, and now this critical agreement will deliver the stream restoration that the fish, forests, and wildlife of the Mono Basin have been promised. This win-win agreement implements significant infrastructure upgrades that show the Los Angeles Aqueduct can operate in an environmentally sustainable manner while delivering water to the people of Los Angeles,” said Mono Lake Committee Executive Director Geoffrey McQuilkin.
Highlights of the agreement
The agreement fully implements the Stream Ecosystem Flows (SEFs) presented in the mandated 2010 Synthesis Report. In 1998 the State Water Board ordered intensive study by designated Stream Scientists that resulted in the development of specific day-by-day, stream-by-stream flow regimes. The SEFs mimic natural runoff patterns and activate the natural processes that will restore the streams. The implementation of SEFs is the single most important action necessary for stream restoration, and the Committee expects a significant leap forward in the streams’ recovery.
DWP will modify the Grant Dam by constructing an outlet that reliably delivers SEFs to Rush Creek. Synthesis Report peak SEFs are currently impossible to deliver due to the aqueduct’s WWII-era infrastructure, specifically the lack of an adequate outlet facility. DWP will complete outlet construction and begin operation within four years of State Water Board approval. In order to offset the cost of the Grant Outlet DWP will be allowed to export an additional 12,000 acre-feet of water from the Mono Basin if timely construction progress is achieved. This one-time allowance will defray approximately half of the cost of the outlet without delaying Mono Lake’s long-term rise to the management level of 6,392 feet above sea level.
The agreement lays out how the fishery, stream, waterfowl, and Mono Lake monitoring work required by the State Water Board will proceed in coming years. Fish and geomorphology monitoring tasks, consistent with the 2010 Synthesis Report, are specified and thus initiate a new phase of stream monitoring. Mono Lake limnology monitoring, a source of dispute over the past year, is assigned to the expert scientists who have run the program for decades.
The agreement provides for adaptive management in order to apply the knowledge learned through scientific monitoring for better stream recovery. Flexibility is provided to adjust the timing, duration, and magnitude of the Stream Ecosystem Flows to maximize their ecological benefit. Limitations assure that adjustments will not violate established minimum flows or reduce water exports to Los Angeles.
The agreement requests deferral of the scheduled State Water Board hearing on DWP’s water licenses from 2014 to 2020. This will allow the Grant Outlet to be constructed and put into operation without a surrounding swirl of legal proceedings.
To reliably manage annual budgeting and contracting, the settlement creates a new oversight team. The team is made up of DWP, the Mono Lake Committee, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and CalTrout. DWP will fund monitoring—and several previously-ordered restoration actions—at specified levels and the team will assure efficient implementation.
A collaborative approach is specified in the settlement for multi-year and annual Mono Basin aqueduct operations planning. This assures that expertise from all parties is used to develop the most successful plans possible. Operating the aqueduct to achieve both stream restoration and water export goals will take careful planning and the Mono Lake Committee will play an active role.
This agreement is the culmination of three years of intensive work by Committee staff, experts, and legal team in collaborative discussions and negotiations with DWP, CalTrout, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. After the DWP Commission votes on August 27th, the agreement will go to the State Water Board for review. The Committee is hoping for State Water Board adoption by the end of 2013.
This major achievement owes thanks to the many dedicated Mono Lake Committee members, friends, and supporters who now have true reason to celebrate! And then, it will be time to get to work on this exciting new phase in stream restoration. The Committee is already looking ahead to the ongoing work outlined in the agreement, and of course, to the successful recovery of Mono Lake’s tributary streams.
You can read the agreement document here. Stay tuned to the Mono-logue for more information on the agreement and an update on the vote. We’ll be posting on Facebook, Twitter, and with #monolakecommittee on Instagram as well.