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Deal may repair damage at Mono Lake

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POSTED August 26, 2013 9:31 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A tentative agreement has been reached that could end a decades-old battle between Los Angeles and conservationists who say the city's water diversions have damaged picturesque Mono Lake.

The board of the city Department of Water and Power was scheduled to vote Tuesday on the settlement, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The alkaline lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada about 350 miles north of Los Angeles is known for its spiraling, craggy formations. It's a stopover for millions of migratory birds.

The settlement will not affect water levels at Mono Lake, which will remain lower than historical levels.

However, it will restore miles of stream corridors that existed before an aqueduct was extended into Mono Basin in 1941, said Geoffrey McQuilkin, executive director of the Mono Lake Committee.

"Now, the aqueduct can operate as required to protect the ecosystem here even as it delivers water to the city," he said. "We expect to see stream-side forests, more insects, birds and animals — and more and bigger fish."

Conservationists first sued in 1979 because the DWP had tapped Sierra streams that supplied the fragile lake, dropping the water level by more than 40 feet and doubling the salinity.

The decline opened up a land bridge that allowed coyotes to reach gulls breeding on an island in the lake.

The lawsuit by the nonprofit Mono Lake Committee alleged that the DWP had violated public trust and created a public nuisance.

The California State Water Resources Control Board eventually ordered the DWP to make sure certain amounts of water flowed in the diverted streams and that the lake had a minimum water level.

The new lawsuit settlement calls for construction of a $15 million dam gate to release water at intervals along a seven-mile stretch of Rush Creek, promoting trout populations and restoring some habitat.

The agreement respects the concerns of both local conservationists and DWP water customers, department General Manager Ron Nichols said.

 

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