Historic Mono Basin Agreement approved by LA Dept. of Water & Power; Cal Trout and Other Groups Sign Off on Water-Sharing Plan

Aug 27, 2013, 18:42 ET from California Trout

EASTERN SIERRAS, Calif., Aug. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Decades of strife over how much water could be diverted out of four key Mono Lake tributaries to the benefit of Los Angeles water users came to an end today when the Board of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) voted to approve a historic settlement agreement among LADWP, non-profit fisheries and water resources conservation organization California Trout (CalTrout), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the Mono Lake Committee.

"It has taken years of challenging and complex negotiations to identify feasible options for implementing this important agreement, and we are eager to see the terms of the agreement put in to action," noted Mark Drew, Eastern Sierra Manager for CalTrout. "Scientific rigor and analyses played an important role in helping us to figure out what kind of flows are needed, as well as how they are to be delivered, to support healthy fisheries and further restore the Mono Lake ecosystem. We are grateful to LADWP for working with us to come to a reasonable agreement on these complex issues."

The settlement agreement lays out the details of a plan to implement several actions, including a significant investment in upgrading Grant Dam and the subsequent delivery of long-term flows, an extensive monitoring program, oversight and bringing to closure earlier requirements stemming from the 1994 decision and subsequent Restoration Orders from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

After the landmark decision in 1994 set the stage for the restoration of the streams, in 1998, the SWRCB appointed a group of stream scientists to analyze conditions and define recommendations for restoring flows to four Mono Lake tributary creeks. After a decade of research and monitoring, in 2010 the scientists presented their long-term flow recommendations.

Once provided, LADWP had the right to contest implementation of the recommended flows. Based on an analysis of how feasible it was to implement the recommendations the LADWP objected to agreeing to implement the recommended flows. In order to resolve disagreements over this issue, CalTrout joined LADWP in making a formal request to the SWRCB to grant the parties time to engage in a facilitated negotiation process. Once ratified by LADWP, this settlement would mark the end of ongoing litigation and negotiations around Mono Basin water distributions since the early 1980s.

"Lee Vining and Rush Creeks once supported some of the finest rainbow and brown trout fisheries in California, but ongoing diversions to support urban growth in Los Angeles devastated these fish populations," said California Trout Executive Director Jeff Thompson. "Although the conditions of these Mono Lake tributaries have improved since their low point in the early 1980s, more work needs to be done to create lasting improvements. With the settlement finally in place, Mono Lake and four of its most important tributaries will receive flows that will improve the Mono Basin fisheries and LADWP will be in compliance with important state regulations."

LADWP's diversions out of the Mono Basin supported an exploding urban population at the expense of the health of a unique and ancient ecosystem. The resulting dramatic environmental degradation led to a series of landmark lawsuits challenging LADWP's water export license under Public Trust doctrine, the California Environmental Quality Act, and State Fish & Wildlife (formerly Fish & Game) regulations. California Trout was a lead plaintiff in two of the most important lawsuits leading up to the settlement now under consideration by LADWP.

"California Trout, Audubon Society, and the Mono Lake Committee were some of the earliest groups to recognize the importance of restoring and protecting the entire Mono Basin watershed. The litigation that led up to these successful negotiations played an important role not just for Mono Lake and its tributaries, but also for protecting riparian habitat throughout California," added attorney Richard Roos-Collins, legal counsel for CalTrout.

The settlement agreement was approved by the LADWP Board at its August 27, 2013 meeting. The agreement will now be presented to the State Water Resources Control for final approval and implementation.

SOURCE California Trout