A recent LA Times article reported on our request to the State Water Board to protect Mono Lake by suspending Los Angeles Department of Water & Power’s (DWP) export of water diverted from Rush and Lee Vining creeks until the current emergency situation is alleviated.
The emergency request asks the State Water Board to suspend all stream diversions until Mono Lake rises at least six feet from its current, very low level in order to protect the California Gull nesting colony from predators and reduce Mono Lake’s salinity to within federal standards. DWP would continue to receive 10,000 acre feet of water annually from the Mono Craters Tunnel infrastructure, the result of groundwater flowing into the diversion tunnel.
DWP refused the Mono Lake Committee’s request to suspend stream diversions voluntarily and work cooperatively to secure funding to develop new water efficiency sources in Los Angeles. We wrote to the State Water Board in mid-December to ask for their help to protect Mono Lake.
The LA Times article included two of DWP’s standard talking points regarding why suspending stream diversions was not possible: that such a reduction would impact low-income ratepayers and would force DWP to find water from elsewhere to make up the shortfall.
In recognition of both those obstacles, we’ve been working since last spring to secure State funding for water efficiency programs and local supply projects to help reduce DWP’s reliance on imported water. While State and LA leaders encouraged our efforts, DWP did not agree to join us and so the State did not take action.
While the LA Times article’s headline, “Conservationists fight to end Los Angeles water imports from Eastern Sierra’s Mono Lake,” is eye-catching, astute Committee members know better. Because of the 10,000 acre-feet of groundwater flowing into the Mono Craters Tunnel each year, water exports from the Mono Basin to LA will not stop—that is a perpetual source of water for DWP. And importantly, in our request to the State Water Board, we have asked for stream diversions to be suspended, not ended.
With this winter’s precipitation off to a strong start in the Sierra Nevada and in Southern California, Los Angeles will likely receive a substantially more water from local supplies and through the Los Angeles Aqueduct, easily affording it an opportunity to absorb the suspension of Mono Basin diversions this year.
As the LA Times article reports, the amount of water in question is “roughly 1% of the water consumed annually in Los Angeles.” DWP has a variety of options for making up that amount, including stormwater capture, water recycling, turf replacement, and conservation. Without water, as one article commenter pointed out, “the impact on Mono Lake is exponentially worse.”
Top photo courtesy of Noam Bedein/DeadSeaRevival.org.