Los Angeles water decision expected to help Mono Lake

Los Angeles water decision expected to help Mono Lake

Los Angeles city leaders have announced plans to take a limited amount of water from the streams that feed Mono Lake this year, a move that environmentalists say will help take advantage of the recent rise in the lake’s level during the last year.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said it plans to export 4,500 acre-feet of Mono Basin water during the current runoff year, the same amount diverted the previous year and enough to supply about 18,000 homes for a year. .

Under current rules, the city could accept much more: up to 16,000 acre-feet this year. But environmental advocates had recently urged Mayor Karen Bass not to increase water diversions to help preserve recent gains and begin boosting the long-depleted lake toward healthier levels. They praised the decision by city leaders as an important step.

“It’s a historic decision in the history of Mono Lake,” said Mark Gold, director of water scarcity solutions for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I think it’s the first major environmental achievement for water in the Bass administration.”

Aggressive and impactful reporting on climate change, the environment, health and science.

DWP officials detailed their expected water diversions from the Eastern Sierra region in a annual plan for the second round year, which began in April.

Environmentalists said it is the first time in 30 years that city officials have announced plans to take less water than the maximum amount allowed under a 1994 decision by the State Water Resources Control Board. However, DWP said in the plan that it will review water conditions in November, and at that time it could still decide to export additional water if it deems necessary, up to the 16,000 acre-foot limit.

“Big kudos to the Bass administration for not taking all the water they are entitled to,” Gold said.

“I think it’s the ultimate olive branch to the environmental community,” he said, and a “show of good faith on the city’s part.”

Gold and other defenders sent a letter to Bass in March, saying that not increasing water diversions this year would be a “significant action” the city can take at a time when supplies are plentiful after the very wet winter of 2023 and this year’s substantial one. snow and rain. They also said doing this would complement efforts toward long-term solutions for Mono Lake.

City leaders agreed.

“Mayor Bass has been clear that building a greener Los Angeles is one of her top priorities and protecting water resources certainly falls within that,” said Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor for energy and sustainability.

Sutley said in an email that the mayor and the DWP “are working together to implement new ways to protect the environment in a sustainable and efficient way.”

The city has been diverting water from the Mono Basin since 1941, transporting it south through the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

For decades, water withdrawals from area streams caused dramatic declines in the lake. As the saline lake receded, rock formations called tuffthat had formed underwater, were exposed along the coasts.

A 1994 ruling by the state water board called for raising the lake level to 6,392 feet, about 8 feet above sea level. current level.

The lake level has risen about 5 feet since early 2023, when historic snowpack in the Sierra Nevada sent large amounts of runoff from the mountains.

The decision by city leaders this year will help preserve those achievements, said Geoffrey McQuilkin, executive director of the Mono Lake Committee.

“Mono Lake will be three vertical inches higher than it would have been if DWP accepted the full 16,000 acre-feet of permitted export,” McQuilkin wrote in a blog post.

He said the step shows Bass’ “commitment to a sustainable relationship” between the city and Mono Lake, and a renewed commitment to achieving the lake level goal mandated by the state water board 30 years ago.

“And although it is only a fraction of the 8 feet that separate Mono Lake from its required healthy level today, the inches add up quickly as the years go by,” McQuilkin said.

The goal, he said, is to get Mono Lake back to a level that allows the ecosystem to thrive.

Mono Lake provides habitat for endangered shorebirds, such as Wilson’s phalaropes, which stop at saline lakes during their long migrations, feeding on brine flies and other invertebrates.

The decision by city leaders “opens the door to having that conversation about how to move forward in the coming years and make sure we achieve the protections in Mono Lake that we have all agreed to put in place,” McQuilkin said.

Bruce Reznik, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper, said the decision represents a big change for the city and DWP.

“In the next few years I would like to see more of the same,” Reznik said. “I would like to see the city as they move forward, even if we’re not in such a wet year, do what they can to minimize what they take away from Mono Lake. May he recover his health little by little.”

Reznik says California now has a chance to restore one of its ecological treasures and at the same time reduces Los Angeles’ dependence on water imported from hundreds of miles away.

“We need to be more aware of resilient local water supplies that make us more water secure,” he said. “Let’s take this victory and see if we can build on it, as we move toward more locally resilient water.”

Conservation efforts in recent years have helped reduce overall water use in Los Angeles. The shift toward more local water supplies can be accelerated, Reznik said, through investments in capturing more stormwater, cleaning up contaminated groundwater and recycling wastewater.

“The more we accept the mindset that we can’t keep taking water from everywhere and we need to invest locally, the more I think we’ll see all the benefits,” he said.