Setting stream restoration into motion

Mono Lake Committee and partners start implementing State Water Board Order 21-86

This winter Mono Lake Committee staff were even busier than usual, working to set Order 21-86 into motion to initiate an exciting new phase of restoration for Mono Basin streams. The order, issued last October by the California State Water Resources Control Board, amended the Mono Basin water rights of the City of Los Angeles to incorporate extensive new requirements to maximize the restoration of 20 miles of stream habitat damaged by past excessive water diversions by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) (see Fall 2021 Mono Lake Newsletter).

Since the order was issued, Committee staff have been in near-daily communication with California Trout, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (DFW), and DWP to set up the new systems that will result in real improvements for Mono Lake’s tributary streams.

Putting out the welcome MAT

The first order of business was to establish the Monitoring Administration Team (MAT), composed of staff from the Committee, CalTrout, DFW, and DWP, an essential step for implementing the required restoration and monitoring programs.

One of the MAT’s first tasks was to choose an independent fiscal administrator to receive annual payments from DWP, which will fund the scientific monitoring work required by Order 21-86. After careful deliberation, the MAT selected the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for this key role. NFWF is a Congressionally-chartered conservation grant-maker known as the gold standard for managing funds for legal and regulatory actions involving conservation eff orts, and they specialize in fi scal management of funds between diverse parties, such as agencies and non-profits.

DWP will make annual deposits into NFWF accounts, which the MAT will manage for stream, waterfowl, and limnology monitoring. DWP will also make one-time deposits for stream restoration projects and for the purpose of improving waterfowl habitat.

The MAT is working with Stream Monitoring Directors Ross Taylor and Dr. Bill Trush, and Limnology Director Dr. John Melack, who are writing proposals for monitoring work that follows the order’s guidance for scope of work and budget. This year will require additional planning because the Directors will need to set up labs, hire staff, and acquire equipment.

Because of the MAT’s quick coordination this winter, the stream morphology and fisheries monitoring overseen by Trush and Taylor will occur without interruption to any data collection, and much more smoothly than previous years when contracting delays occurred with DWP. Melack’s limnology monitoring of Mono Lake will resume this year after a long interruption caused when DWP unilaterally canceled his contract in 2012. Already, the MAT is a vast improvement for monitoring work.

Next up: Operations planning

The same parties involved in the MAT are also working on the Annual Operations Plan (AOP), which must be determined each runoff year, and the Mono Basin Operations Plan (MBOP), a document that lays out detailed rules, guidelines, and criteria for DWP’s operations in the Mono Basin.

The first AOP meeting will take place in late March when the group will have snowpack data relevant to the runoff year-type. The AOP is particularly exciting for restoration progress because it will plan out this year’s Stream Ecosystem Flows (SEFs), the pattern of required water releases from DWP’s diversion infrastructure that better resembles natural stream runoff in order to maximize restoration and overall stream health.

The MBOP must be submitted to the State Water Board at the end of September 2022. A substantial portion of the MBOP will involve Grant Lake Reservoir operations, including requirements to ensure the new Grant Lake Outlet works as planned, which will result in the reservoir being higher on average.

Blazing this new path for restoration

Until now, the Mono Lake Committee has had to monitor and watchdog Los Angeles Aqueduct operations and Mono Basin restoration using legal challenges and State Water Board orders as the templates to ensure the right things were happening to restore Mono Lake and its tributary streams. Now, thanks to the precedent-setting Order 21-86, the State Water Board has tasked the Committee, CalTrout, and DFW with continuing this work from the inside with DWP—as the parties specifically charged with helping to implement this new phase of restoration.

Order 21-86 is like the blueprint for the Monitoring Administration Team, the Annual Operations Plan, Stream Ecosystem Flows, the Mono Basin Operations Plan, and the new Grant Outlet. Along with CalTrout, DFW, and DWP, we are building from that blueprint a new era of stream restoration based on decades of scientific work in the Mono Basin. The Committee is bringing 44 years of focused experience to power this process and to make sure that restoration advances on the ground, along the stream channels, and all the way downstream at Mono Lake.

This post was also published as an article in the Winter & Spring 2022 Mono Lake Newsletter. Top photo by Robbie Di Paolo.