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Los Angeles water officials, environmentalists reach deal to speed Mono Lake recovery

Mono Lake
Mono Lake

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On Tuesday, Los Angeles Water and Power Commissioners will consider a settlement to end decades of discord over ecological damage at Mono Lake stemming from the city's water use. 

Los Angeles first took water for its aqueduct from the Mono basin in the 1940s, starving miles of streams and creeks that fed Mono Lake. Courts and state water officials have since required L.A. to improve the health of those tributaries. Now, this new deal requires the DWP to build a $15 million dollar gate in the Grant Dam above Rush Creek.  Mark Drew of the preservation group, California Trout says the goal is to release a pulse of water into the creek that mimics natural seasonal snow melt.

"I look forward to seeing robust riparian vegetation and a fishery that is flourishing, a lake that is continually rising that the four tributaries feeding Mono Lake will be healthy and robust. And it will now have lasting impact for generations to come."

The DWP's Marty Adams says the agreement with Cal Trout, the Mono Lake Committee, and California Fish & Wildlife is historic. "There's nothing like it of its kind to compare to," he says. 

Under the terms of the deal, Los Angeles will get to take around 12,000 acre-feet of water from the region. The value of that water will help cover the cost of constructing the gate in  dam.  

"In the long run, there's no net change to the water that comes to the city," Adams says. In addition to stabilizing L.A.'s ongoing responsibilities to the lake, "ideally it helps guarantee the future flows and get the natural stream environments back to what they are envisioned to be."

Mono Lake in the late 1970s was a smelly, salty, fragile place. Recovery efforts, including limitations to L.A.'s water allocation from the region, have brought the lake's health and level back up, although the lake hasn't achieved its historic high level mark.  The new deal won't automatically boost the water level, but it aims to improve conditions for birds, fish, and brine shrimp at the base of the food chain.

Both the DWP's Adams and Cal Trout's Drew say they believe this settlement will speed the recovery of Mono Lake's ecosystem.