Decision 1631 Background

Mono Lake Basin Water Right Decision 1631. Decision and Order Amending Water Right Licenses to Establish Fishery Protection Flows in Streams Tributary to Mono Lake and to Protect Public Trust Resources at Mono Lake and in the Mono Lake Basin. September 28, 1994. State of California Water Resources Control Board.

In relation to Water Right Licenses 10191 and 10192, Applications 8042 and 8043, City of Los Angeles, Licensee.

The California State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) is a five member body, appointed by the Governor, which administers water rights in California. When the predecessor to the Water Board originally granted diversion licenses to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), it realized that the diversions would cause harm to public trust values in the Mono Basin but said there was "apparently nothing that this office can do to prevent it."

In 1983, the California Supreme Court ruled that, in granting DWP's licenses to divert water from Mono Basin streams, the Water Board's predecessor had erred by failing to take into account protection of Mono Lake's public trust values -- "the purity of the air, the scenic views of the lake and its shore, the use of the lake for nesting and feeding birds...." Based on the Supreme Court decision, the Eldorado Superior Court in 1989 set a temporary minimum elevation of 6,377 feet above sea level for Mono Lake to prevent further harm to its public trust values.

In 1989, the lawsuits concerning Mono Lake and Mono Basin streams were consolidated into one case, the Mono Basin Water Rights Case (or Coordinated Proceedings), by Eldorado Superior Court Judge Terrence Finney. The Third District Court of Appeals ruled that the Water Board must reissue DWP's water diversion licenses to bring them into compliance with California Fish and Game Codes that require sufficient water to be released downstream from diversion facilities to keep fish in "good condition." The Third District Court ordered that the four streams diverted by DWP be rewatered immediately, with interim flows set by the Eldorado Superior Court, and that DWP's licenses be reconditioned to comply with state law. At the request of the Water Board, Judge Finney stayed the Coordinated Proceedings to allow the Water Board to amend DWP's licenses to divert water from Mono Basin streams.

Information to assist the Water Board in making its decision on Mono Basin Water Rights was presented in two formats: an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and an Evidentiary Hearing.

The EIR was released in May, 1993. The exhaustive three volume, 1,000+ page document was accompanied by twenty-five Auxiliary Reports containing new scientific information produced for the EIR. The EIR examined a range of alternative lake levels for Mono Lake, from no diversions to unlimited diversions by DWP. Over 4,000 written public comments were received by the Water Board on the EIR.

In October, 1993, the second phase of the Water Board's process began: the Evidentiary Hearing. Public hearings were held in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Mammoth Lakes. The hearing was conducted like a court trial. Water Board Vice Chair Marc Del Piero presided over the hearing as the Hearing Officer. Forty-three days of evidence was presented by expert (and non-expert) witnesses. The evidence included new scientific information as well as historical information on fisheries, wildlife, recreation and access, and aesthetics, introduced by residents who had lived in the Mono Basin prior to and during diversions. Sixteen parties participated in the formal hearing, including those listed below.

The Water Board's decision (Decision 1631) was issued September 28, 1994 in Sacramento. Decision 1631 set permanent streamflows for Mono Basin streams and a lake level of 6,392 feet to protect Mono Lake's public trust values, as ordered by the California Supreme Court. The lake elevation afforded by the decision is still 25 feet below Mono Lake's pre-diversion level of 6,417 feet, but is expected to restore many lost public trust values and prevent future degradation of resources. The Water Board also ordered DWP to prepare and implement plans to restore streams and waterfowl habitat damaged as a result of diversions. No party appealed the decision. Click here to read the 212-page decision.

 

List of Major Participants Involved
in the Water Board Proceedings

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power: Involved because of its water rights, aqueduct facilities, water diversions, and the resulting environmental impacts in the Mono Basin.

Mono Lake Committee: Formed in 1978 to save Mono Lake and help find ways of meeting L.A.'s real water needs. The main group to rally grassroots support for the lake and push for its protection.

National Audubon Society: Participated in reports and studies on the lake. Involved since the Mono Lake Committee was first conceived within the Society's Santa Monica chapter, it has provided legal and financial support for the efforts to save, protect, and restore the lake. Also joined with the Mono Lake Committee in lawsuits on the lake's behalf.

California Trout: Involved because of its purposes "to protect and restore wild trout, native steelhead and the waters that nurture them and to create high quality angling for the public to enjoy." Participated in lawsuits and the Water Board process which successfully obtained minimum flows and interim restoration in the diverted streams.

California Department of Fish and Game: Involved because of its obligation to protect the public trust resources of fish and wildlife present in the basin. Focused particularly on fish in the diverted streams.

U.S. Forest Service, Inyo National Forest: Involved because of its management responsibility for the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area.

California Department of Parks and Recreation: Involved because of its obligation to protect the public trust resources present on state park land, in this case the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve.

State Lands Commission: Involved because of its obligation to protect the public trust resources of navigable waters (Mono Lake) and the lands beneath those waters (the lakebed and streambeds). The state holds title to these areas.

Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District: Involved because of its responsibility for air pollution control in the Mono Basin. Alkali dust storms rising from the exposed lakebed degrade the air quality in the basin.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Involved because of the possibility that Artemia monica, the Mono Lake Brine Shrimp, would be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund: Involved because of concern about Mono Lake and the legal precedents set by the Mono Lake litigation.

Upper Owens River Landowners: The Upper Owens properties are located where Mono Basin diversions leave the Mono Craters tunnel and enter the Upper Owens River. Involved because of concerns about effects of decreased diversions on the Upper Owens River.

 

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