Los Angeles gets some of its water from Mono Lake, but there's a push to change how much

Rob McMillan Image
Friday, June 16, 2023
LADWP gets water from Mono Lake, but some want to change how much
Mono Lake is just one of the sources Los Angeles uses to meet its water demands. But those who oversee it want a better plan to keep more of the water in the basin.

Mono Lake is just one of the sources Los Angeles uses to meet its water demands. But those who oversee it want a better plan to keep more of the water in the basin.

As the snow in the Sierras continues to melt at a faster and faster pace, the water level at Mono Lake, located north of Mammoth, is also rising. That's good news for the L.A. Department of Water and Power, which holds rights to draw from it.

"When you look at the overall number and impact to Angelenos, it's enough water to supply 200,000 in the city of Los Angeles, so it's quite a considerable amount of water," said Adam Perez, manager of the L.A. Aqueduct, which is the route the water takes down into the city.

The LADWP says they only get about 2% of their water each year from Mono Lake. However, coming out of a severe drought, officials say every drop counts.

"Especially when you're looking at the state of California, where you are limited by basically what's coming into the state... it's a small amount but it means a lot," Perez added.

The source of water could one day dry up completely, at least in a figurative sense if advocates near the lake get their way.

"In the big picture, the lake is very low," said Geoff McQuilkin, executive director of the Mono Lake Committee.

He and others want to see changes to the LADWP's water management, which could further restrict how much water they get.

"They aren't accommodating the big swings we're seeing between wet years and dry years with climate change. They weren't designed to work in that environment, some of the longer droughts we've had, so those impacts are what's holding back the lake from rising when diversions continue without adjustment," McQuilkin said.

Historic winter leads to severe problems for LA water supply operations at Owens Lake

For over a century, SoCal has taken water from Owens Lake. After record runoff from winter storms, many fear it could cause catastrophic damage to the aqueduct and surrounding areas.

So, why are they concerned?

They point to Owens Lake, located about 120 miles south, as a cautionary tale about what can happen if the LADWP takes too much water. That lake went completely dry years back, causing massive dust storms among other problems.

It's something the Mono Lake Committee doesn't want to see happen with their body of water.

"If it gets too salty, then you lose the whole ecosystem and that would leave us with real devastation."

The way it currently works, the amount of water the LADWP gets each year depends on the water level. If the water level gets too low, the department gets nothing.

The committee wants to raise that so-called "floor" on water diversions, meaning less of the lake's water will make its way south.

The LADWP has yet to support that new plan.

"We feel that there's a balance there in Mono Lake, we feel the lake itself is in a stable condition and we are managing according to our license. Overall, we feel there is an ability to pull water from that resource in a way that will not harm Mono Lake," Perez said.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to reduce the amount of water the LADWP gets from Mono Lake will be up to the California State Water Resources Control Board.