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.

Mill Creek is flowing mighty high!

This post was written by Sarah Melcher, 2010 Mono Lake Intern.

Water cascades over the Lundy Lake Reservoir spillway on its way down Mill Creek to Mono Lake. Photo by Sarah Melcher.
Water cascades over the Lundy Lake Reservoir spillway on its way down Mill Creek to Mono Lake. Photo by Sarah Melcher.

I grabbed the flow meter and eagerly drove out to Lundy Canyon, where our beloved Mill Creek runs in its complicated course to Mono Lake. As the intern assigned to monitor Mill Creek this summer, I got to be one of the first people to see Lundy Lake Reservoir spill into the usually less-than-full creek bed.

Typically, Mill Creek is diverted at Lundy Lake to the SCE power plant. Some of that water is then diverted for delivery to water rights holders, but due to outmoded infrastructure the rest of it doesn’t make it back to Mill, leaving the creek deprived of most of its water. On the agenda for the next five years is to build a functional facility that will efficiently return Mill Creek’s share of the water that flows through the power plant.

In previous trips to Mill Creek, the measurements were almost depressing. Two weeks ago, the flume read only 0.35 feet and the flow meter detected about 14 cubic feet per second (cfs) as what was left of Mill trickled along on its way down to Mono Lake. Meanwhile, Mill Creek water in neighboring Wilson Creek sped by at 66 cfs.

This week, however, was radically different. Because the Lundy Lake Reservoir spilled, thanks to the above-average snow year we had, Mill Creek got a huge boost.

At its highest, the flume read 2.0 feet, which is equivalent to 97.4 cfs. I couldn’t even monitor using the flow meter because every time I stepped into the creek it threatened to carry me away to Mono Lake! At one site, the creek had found two extra channels to use, creating a few feet of drowning grass on each side and flooding into the usually-dry Mill Creek return ditch. In another, I couldn’t park my car because the parking lot was completely flooded. At every stop I made, Mill Creek continued to astonish me. I am looking forward to seeing its progress over the next few weeks. Long live Mill Creek!

One comment

  1. Hello: As a person who spent every summer at Lundy from 1936 through 1955 your appreciation of Mill Creek brought back great memories. I guess I’m one of the few that remember the canyon without beavers…when the “Garden of Eden”, now the big beaver dam, was in full flourish and a wonderful place to gather worms for fishing and picnic. I used to run the boat dock for Carl Miller as a teenage employee and when the lake was up high the dock was almost up to the store. Keep up your good work. Ron Nelson