Wilson and Mill: A tale of two creeks

By Deb Murphy

Public, private and advocacy groups came to the Mono County Board of Supervisors last week, some with hope the County had the wisdom and power of Solomon to solve the issue of water in Wilson and Mill creeks.

The Board didn’t have that power or will. The only real solution to maintaining and returning valuable watershed features to both appears to be more water.

The issue of a dried up Wilson Creek came to the board two weeks ago when Katie Bellomo spoke during the public comment period, bringing photos of dead trout in the dry creek bed.

To define the issue as complicated is an understatement. Water rights to and allocations from Mill Creek, which runs from the Southern California Edison hydroelectric plant on Lundy Lake to Mono Lake, were determined by decree in 1914. The water uses range from the watersheds on tributaries out of Lundy to irrigation for grazing leases and habitat on the Conway Ranch.

An article in the Mono Lake Committee newsletter, written by Heidi Hopkins in 1997, goes a long way to explain the 2019 issue. Water to Mill Creek had been diverted to a diversion ditch, Wilson Creek, since the early 1900s. As Mill Creek dried up over the years, Wilson developed its own distinct habitat. 

According to Geoff McQuilken, executive director of the Mono Lake Committee, “the water being talked about is Mill Creek water. Either it’s in Mill Creek or it is diverted into the Wilson system for irrigation use, flow across Conway Ranch, etc. The water rights allow for generous, large diversions (40-60-percent of the flow at the Reservoir) out of Mill Creek and the proposal to divert even more would mean less water in Mill Creek.”

Cal Rossi, SCE’s government affairs representative, explained SCE was working at balancing competing parties’ needs. Steve Parmenter, California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist said nearly the same thing. The effort was to restore impacts on Mill and uphold perennial flows in Wilson. “There’s not enough water to do more, in my opinion” he said.

One suggestion was to install fish dams in Wilson Creek to avoid future fish kills when Wilson water ran out.

Bellomo asked the Board to issue a temporary injunction to keep water in Wilson until issues could be worked out in order to prevent irreparable harm. The Board was supportive of continued collaborative discussions, but not of legal action.

 

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