Mono Lake / Desert Systems

SERCAL 2016 Technical Session, Tahoe

Chair: Ross Taylor, Ross Taylor & Associates

Lead presenters in alpha order

Planning, Permitting, and Restoring Endangered Species Habitat and Resiliency on a Southwest River
Zooey Diggory*1, Glen Leverich1, Bruce Orr1, Tom Dudley2, Jim Hatten3, Kevin Hultine4, and Matt Johnson5
1Stillwater Sciences, 2855 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 400, Berkeley, CA 94705; 510.848.8098; 2Marine Science Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, CA 93106-6150; 805.893.2911; 3US Geological Survey, Western Fisheries Research Center, 5501-A Cook-Underwood Road, Cook, WA 98605; 509.538.2299; 4Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008; 480.481.8195; 5Northern Arizona University, Colorado Plateau Research Station, PO Box 5614, Flagstaff, AZ 86011; 928.523.7764;
The upper Gila River in southeast Arizona supports a relatively robust population of endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, despite the fact that flycatchers must now nest almost exclusively in the nonnative, invasive tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) that now dominates the river’s riparian vegetation. The tamarisk beetle (Diorhabda elongata complex), which was released for biocontrol of tamarisk in the early 2000s, is anticipated to arrive in the upper Gila River valley in the next few years and, as it has on other southwest rivers, result in the defoliation and mortality of most of the tamarisk and, along with it, much of the existing nesting habitat for the flycatcher. In 2012, an interdisciplinary science team began the development of a planning framework to identify high-priority areas for restoration of native nesting habitat that would be resilient to the effects of the beetle, promote natural recruitment of native riparian plants, and account for the biophysical factors that will most influence restoration success. Since that time, the highest priority areas have been permitted and implementation has begun. This presentation will provide an overview of the restoration framework and the considerations and methods used to identify restoration areas, describe the permitting process used for working within occupied habitat for an endangered species, and describe initial implementation results.

It Can’t Be Done? Applying Outcome-based Management to the Mono Lake Rockfall Project
Michael Hogan
Integrated Environmental Restoration Services, Inc., 2780 Lake Forest Rd, Tahoe City, CA 96145;
In a very unusual and perhaps unique project, Caltrans and the Mono Lake Committee (MLC) have embarked on a multi-year, adaptively managed project near Lee Vining on Highway 395 called the Lee Vining Rockfall Project. The project has been in play for over three years — starting with small pots of soil to test amendment-plan responses, then moving to small- and medium-sized test plots on the actual project site, and from there to full-scale implementation — and yet there are still many reasons why it may not perform as intended.  But unlike most other projects of this sort, which rely on applying BMPs and expert-opinion-based treatment, but little or no follow up, the Rockfall Project is not relying on prediction alone. By basing treatment on actual results with very specific success criteria — with each step scaling up the results of the previous step — confidence is built because the probability of success is based on actual proof of treatments. As of spring 2016 the Rockfall Project is only half built — the outcome of the project is not yet known. But if initial results are any indication, this project is well on its way to meeting success criteria. Already the grasses, seeded shrubs, and forbs are emerging throughout the project and the main concern, erosion — even on the 60-degree portion of the slopes — is generally non-existent. And perhaps most importantly, Caltrans and the Mono Lake Committee have gained a degree of trust that is uncommon between two entities with seemingly different agendas. Rather than pushing and pulling on each other to move toward their specific versions of “what should be” (and spending finite resources on attorneys), they have come together to actually explore mutual goals as a team and, in the end, create a project focused clearly on outcomes and learning.

Stream Restoration Agreement Charts New Cutting-edge Path for Habitat Recovery
Geoff McQuilkin
Mono Lake Committee, P.O. Box 29, Lee Vining, CA 93541;
The Mono Basin Stream Restoration Settlement Agreement represents three years of collaborative negotiations with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) to improve its aqueduct infrastructure and operations in order to restore stream habitat and recreational trout fisheries destroyed by excessive water diversions. In 2010, after 12 years of Water Board-ordered study, scientists Dr. Bill Trush and Ross Taylor produced a Synthesis Report recommending a new streamflow release pattern intended to maximize the success of the decades-long stream restoration effort; however the 1930s-era infrastructure designed to maximize water exports was an obstacle. Negotiations began in 2011 as a series of facilitated meetings between the Mono Lake Committee, DWP, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, and California Trout. After two years of fact-finding and a year of intense negotiations, the parties signed a settlement agreement in August 2013 that will implement the Synthesis Report’s recommendations and set the stream restoration program on the path towards completion. Translating the Settlement Agreement into Water Board license language has taken longer than expected, but this year the parties anticipate DWP’s water licenses to be amended and Settlement components to be implemented. Most significant is the construction of a new outlet to Rush Creek from Grant Lake Reservoir that will enable the reliable delivery of new high and low stream flows. It also includes an innovative cost-sharing component to fund the outlet construction and a creative contracting-administration component to fund ecological monitoring and facilitate adaptive management.

Discoveries in the Control of Emergent Plants in Great Basin Springs and Ponds
Steve Parmenter
Senior Environmental Scientist (Specialist); CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, Inland Deserts Region, 787 North Main Street, Suite 220, Bishop, CA 93514; 760.872.1123;
Beginning 47 years ago, selected aquatic habitats began to be managed as refuges for imperiled desert fishes in the eastern Sierra and Mojave desert of southwestern California. Post-disturbance invasion by native Typha spp and Schoenoplectus acutus altered food webs, predator cover, and water depth to the detriment of fishes. In the case of Owens pupfish, refuge populations collapsed with a median persistence of 8 years. Herbicide, damming, substrate paving, and hand weeding provided costly ephemeral relief. Effective eradication of problem plants with zero recolonization has been accomplished in the past 14 years by underwater mowing, dormant season drowning, excavation or explosives, combined with replacement planting of 1-3 specific clonal species of native Cyperaceae on the shoreline. Competing species establishment was associated with reduced clonal spread and elimination of seedling recruitment in both Typha and S. acutus. Case studies of treatments with 6-14 year maintenance-free outcomes, failed attempts, and new efforts involving draw-down, fire, and/or herbicide will be described. Natural history and management observations will be joined to suggest a general hypothesis and research questions about clonal plant succession in emergent alkali wetlands.

The Mono Basin Operations Plan: Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Greg Reis
Mono Lake Committee, P.O. Box 29, Lee Vining, CA 93541; 760.647.6386 x141;
Since the Mono Basin Synthesis Report was released in 2010, and since the Mono Basin Stream Restoration Settlement Agreement was signed in 2013, there have been many facility and operational changes that have the potential to affect Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) operations in the Mono Basin. The Mono Basin Operations Plan (MBOP) will need to incorporate and address many of these changes, and we present here a few examples of the complexities that await. Among the changes, Southern California Edison has begun hydropower-peaking upstream of DWP’s facilities. Also, the historic drought has left Mono Lake and Grant Lake Reservoir very low. Additional water for Mono Lake level maintenance needs to be programmed into the Synthesis Report hydrographs, and the Mono Lake Committee (MLC) has done some initial work on this. Initial work has also been done by MLC and DWP to look at operationally realistic ramping rates compared to the ecologically-optimized rates in the 2010 Synthesis Report. New facilities are being built at Grant Lake Reservoir to bring outdated equipment up-to-date, and the MBOP will need to describe these facilities and incorporate the new capabilities they bring to sustainable water management in the Mono Basin.

Stream Ecosystem Flows for Geomorphic, Riparian, and Fisheries Recovery and Maintenance in Mono Basin Tributaries, CA
Ross N. Taylor, M.S.
Ross Taylor and Associates, McKinleyville, CA;
The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) must balance how water is allocated to meet the needs of citizens and natural resources. In 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) completed the construction of infrastructure to store and export water from the Mono Basin, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to the City of Los Angeles. Over the next five decades, these water exports caused significant negative ecological changes to Mono Lake and its tributary streams — primarily Rush and Lee Vining creeks. In 1998, the SWRCB established preliminary instream flows in Mono Lake tributaries to promote the recovery of Mono Lake, the stream channels, and the non-native (but naturally reproducing) trout fisheries. Two independent scientists (aka, ‘Stream Scientists’) were also appointed by the SWRCB to monitor the recovery of the stream channels and the fisheries, to evaluate the 1998 ordered flows, and to recommend adjustments to these preliminary flows. After amassing 12 years of monitoring data, the Stream Scientists identified specific areas of the 1998-ordered hydrographs that potentially limited the recovery of the streams and fisheries. Recommendations were then developed to better achieve desired ecological outcomes and processes and to improve the reliability of flow releases below LADWP’s points of diversion. The recommended changes to the 1998 ordered flows were presented to the SWRCB in April of 2010 in the Stream Scientists’ Synthesis Report. After submission of the Synthesis Report, LADWP and the major stakeholders undertook a two-year-long facilitated process to reach consensus on outstanding disagreements with the Synthesis Report recommendations. In September of 2013, LADWP and the major stakeholders signed terms of settlement which included the streamflows recommended in the Synthesis Report. This presentation highlights the strategies and data-based analyses used by the Stream Scientists to develop their recommended stream ecosystem flows (SEFs). This presentation also describes how watershed-specific differences and existing infrastructure within Rush and Lee Vining creeks influenced flow recommendations.