With its haunting rock spires and salt-crusted shores, Mono Lake is a Hollywood vision of the apocalypse. To the city of Los Angeles, however, this Eastern Sierra basin represents the very source of L.A.’s prosperity — the right to free water.
For decades, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has relied on long-standing water rights to divert from the streams that feed this ancient lake as part of the city’s far-flung water empire. But in the face of global warming, drought and lawsuits from environmentalists, the DWP is now facing the previously unthinkable prospect of ending its diversions there.
In the coming months, the State Water Resources Control Board will decide whether Mono Lake’s declining water level — and the associated ecological impacts — constitute an emergency that outweighs L.A.’s right to divert up to 16,000 acre-feet of supplies each year.