Scope and Content
Title: Mono Lake Committee Collection,
Date (inclusive): 1919-1997, (bulk 1977-1995)
Collection number: MS 99/4
Mono Lake Committee
59 manuscript boxes and 1 oversize flat box
Water Resources Collections and Archives
Shelf location: This collection is stored off-campus at NRLF. Please contact the Water Resources Collections and Archives staff for access
to the materials.
Abstract: This collection contains the organizational papers of the Mono Lake Committee from its creation in 1978 through the mid-1990s.
The bulk of the collection consists of legal files documenting the various lawsuits in which the Committee was involved during
this time period.
This collection was donated by the Mono Lake Committee in 1997.
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the Water Resources Collections and Archives. All requests for permission to publish or
quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf
of the Water Resources Collections and Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply
permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Mono Lake Committee Collection,
Water Resources Collections and Archives, University of California, Riverside.
Mono Lake Committee.
Mono Lake (Calif.)--History.
Mono Lake (Calif.)--Water rights.
Water rights--California--Los Angeles.
Water-supply--Law and legislation--California--Los Angeles.
Water levels--Environmental aspects--California--Mono Lake.
Water withdrawals--Law and legislation--California--Mono Lake.
Lake ecology--California--Mono Lake.
Lake conservation--Law and legislation--California--Mono Lake.
Conservation of natural resources--California--Mono Lake.
Restoration ecology--California--Mono Lake Region.
In 1974, David Gaines became acquainted with Mono Lake during an inventory of the natural areas of Mono County. In 1976 he helped to form the Mono
Basin Research Group with undergraduates from Stanford, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and Earlham College, which received grant
funding from the National Science Foundation. The Mono Basin Research Group conducted the first comprehensive ecological study of Mono Lake,
An Ecological Study of Mono Lake, California, which was published in June 1977 by the UC Davis Institute of Ecology.
This report drew attention to the potentially catastrophic ecological impacts of Mono Lake's falling level due to water diversions
from its tributary streams by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). These diversions began in 1941 and caused the lake to lose half of its volume, thus doubling its salinity. They
also caused Negit Island, an important rookery for California gulls, to become connected to the mainland, allowing predators
access to nesting birds. After editing the Ecological Study, Mono Basin Research Group member David Winkler walked across the newly exposed land bridge to Negit Island in November 1977 and felt compelled to do something before the
next gull breeding season. He enlisted the help of David Gaines to form an organization whose sole purpose was to save Mono Lake and its inhabitants.
Winkler and Gaines approached the Sierra Club's Mono Lake Task Force, Friends of the Earth, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. All were willing to provide support, but none were willing to lead the effort to save Mono Lake. Gaines then appealed to the Audubon Society's Santa Monica chapter, and in March 1978 he formed the Mono Lake Committee (MLC) as a project of the Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society (SMBAS). The MLC collected donations through the SMBAS while it went through the process of incorporation.
Winkler chose to pursue a doctorate degree, which left Gaines and fellow Mono Basin Research Group member Sally Judy in charge of the MLC. Gaines created publicity for MLC's efforts by traveling around the state showing a Mono Lake slide show to schools, conservation
groups, legislators, and anyone else who would listen. The newly-formed Mono Lake Committee decided to focus on three areas of action: legal, legislative, and educational. In 1980, the MLC acquired a building on Highway
395 in Lee Vining for their headquarters. The Mono Lake Information Center opened at this location on Memorial Day weekend,
1980. In order to attract more visitors, the Information Center also functioned as the Lee Vining Chamber of Commerce.
In 1982 the MLC hired its first full-time executive director, Ed Grosswiler, a former congressional aide and Associated Press reporter. Grosswiler worked out of Committee's Los Angeles office, a practice maintained by successive executive directors. In 1984, Martha Davis became the next executive director, a position she held until 1996. In 1988, David Gaines, generally acknowledged as the founder of the Mono Lake Committee, died in an automobile accident with fellow MLC member Dan Oberlin near Mono Lake.
As a result of the lobbying efforts of the MLC and others, the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve was created in 1981, followed
in 1984 by the creation of the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area. These two designations brought resources, facilities,
and attention to the Mono Basin. Both the State Reserve and the Scenic Area offer educational programs and visitor services
in the area, and both became involved as friends of the court in litigation to protect Mono Lake. Also as a result of efforts
by the MLC, Mono Lake received international acknowledgement as a site in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
In 1979, the MLC and the NAS argued in the Mono County Superior Court that water diversions to Los Angeles did not comply with the public trust doctrine.
This legal doctrine, which came to California law from ancient Roman codes, states that the government has the duty to protect
navigable bodies of water for the use and benefit of all the people. In a 1983 precedent-setting decision, the California Supreme Court agreed with the MLC, ruling that the state has an obligation to protect places such as Mono Lake, "as far as feasible," even
if this means a reconsideration of past water allocation decisions.
In 1984, California Trout, MLC, and NAS brought suit against the City of Los Angeles charging that their water diversions did not comply with California Fish and
Game codes. These codes require that enough water always be allowed to flow below a dam to keep fisheries in good condition.
Eventually, the Public Trust suit and the Fish and Game suits were combined into one proceeding before the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), the agency that allocates water in California.
In 1994 the SWRCB issued Decision 1631, which set minimum flows for the streams, set limits on water exports based on the level of Mono Lake
(designed to raise and stabilize the lake at a level 20 feet above its lowest level), and ordered LADWP to restore the streams and waterfowl habitat.
Water Replacement Supplies
The MLC realized that the protection of Mono Lake required securing adequate, environmentally sound replacement water supplies for
Los Angeles. Its goal was to help the city meet its real water needs without increasing pressure on other sensitive resources
such as the Bay-Delta and Colorado River. The Committee lobbied throughout the 1980s for both state and federal legislation
that would create funding to help Los Angeles develop water recycling facilities and pay for water conservation programs.
Conservation and recycling in Los Angeles helped the city become more drought-tolerant, reduced the amount of pollution created
by wastewater, and annually created more water than was ever diverted from the Mono Basin. Two legislative bills, AB444 and
HR429, were passed to help fund such projects.
The MLC has been involved in creating and maintaining several water conservation and water recycling policies and programs in Los
Angeles and throughout California. The Committee secured funding and support for water conservation and recycling projects
in Southern California, was one of the negotiators of the state's Best Management Practices Agreement, and served on the steering
committee for the California Urban Water Conservation Council.
NOTE: Information adapted from
Storm Over Mono: The Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future
by John Hart, (1996) and the Mono Lake Committee's website,
Scope and Content
Records of the environmental organization the Mono Lake Committee (MLC) span the years 1919-1997, with the bulk of the material pertaining to the years 1977-1995. The collection includes
the operational records of the organization as well as historical and research records used by the organization in their political
and legal efforts to protect Mono Lake. The collection is organized in twelve series: Administrative Files, Program Files,
Media Files, Subject Files, Research & Reference Materials, MLC Publications, Ephemera, Legislative Files, Legal Records,
Petitions, Photographs, and Artwork.
Material Cataloged Separately
Published books as well as published and unpublished reports have been transferred to the general collection of the Water
Resources Collections and Archives. See collection call number G4676 and other call numbers related to Mono County and Inyo
County water issues. Published articles related to Mono County and Inyo County water issues have also been removed from the
collection. A complete list of removed materials is located with the staff of the Water Resources Collections and Archives.
Related item of interest is:
Storm Over Mono: The Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future by John Hart, (University of California Press, 1996). [Call number G4676 N6 Locked Cage]