Fishmas, the Eastern Sierra trout season opener, starts annually on the final Saturday of April, and brings in thousands of tourists to Long Valley. Literal generations of anglers return to fish the lakes and the rivers that have been stocked with trout. Businesses flourish as anglers come from all over the world to stay in rustic cabins, book boats, and cast their rods hoping to hook a lunker.
“Eighty percent of my business starts with the fishing opener at the end of April and goes through October,” says Michelle Layne, proprietor of Tom’s Place, a fishing destination since 1917, 30 miles north of Bishop. According to the Mono County Board of Tourism, fishing is the second most popular visitor activity, at 40% of the annual tourism. This season, Mono County will stock 18 bodies of water in the area with about 18,000 pounds of rainbow trout in anticipation of summer tourism. According to the county, they invest over $100,000 annually to supplement trout stocking. However, with 100% of Mono County currently experiencing severe drought according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, fishermen and business owners need to reap the benefits of the County's efforts early this year.
“There is a trickle-down effect with a lack of water that most people don’t realize. When water is low and fishing is bad, the customers stop coming. I lose revenue, as well as the fly fishermen and anyone else whose business booms when the anglers come. Plus, I have to cut back on employee’s hours, so families lose out, too.”
Taking more water from the Eastern Sierra by removing irrigation from ranching leases in Long Valley not only puts the area economically at risk by threatening agricultural and tourism based livelihoods, but physically as well. The rural communities of Sunny Slopes, Aspen Springs, Crowley Lake and Long Valley are at extreme risk of losing native habitat, wildlife, economic stability, and infrastructure to wildfire until we reach an agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) that secures reliable and sustainable water for the ranchers of Long Valley.
Snow, Dust, and Fire
Climate change increases the possibility of high velocity winds with gusts up to 90mph that may kick up toxic dust and fuel wildfires that can, and have, destroyed homes, livelihoods, and lives. With drought conditions on the rise, the situation looks dire for the Eastern Sierra. Less snow means less water for everyone.
“It takes 400 inches of snowpack to make what I call a ‘fishy summer,’” says Chris Leonard, local fly-fishing guide and Mammoth Lakes High School teacher. “When the water level lowers, oxygen is depleted and the temperature of the water increases, making it an unsustainable environment for the trout that prefer colder temperatures. When the fields are healthy and green, we have more fire and dust protection. More grass increases the bug life, especially the grasshoppers, one of trout’s favorite foods.”
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area recorded 257 inches of snowpack this year, far from a “fishy summer” to be. In low snow years/drought, irrigation diversions such as those in Long Valley can have effects on fishing as well, as these diversions further reduce the amount of water flowing in the creeks. However, these diversions can help us prioritize the health of meadow and wetland habitats in Long Valley, which ultimately protects the area and the fishing it hosts from further damage. Failure to irrigate these areas will result in widespread habitat loss, which not only affects the existing biomass, but opens the door for invasive plant species. When established, invasive species choke out native, climate adapted ground cover, increasing the risk of fire and dust in the area - both of which would result in far greater - perhaps permanent - compromises to the fishing resources in Long Valley.
The Future of Water in Long Valley
As our climate changes, we all must give and take to protect the resources we depend upon. LADWP has suggested that climate change is the reason water in Long Valley cannot be protected, noting that “faced with a new climate reality, there is no guarantee of water for anyone, anywhere.”
Keep Long Valley Green (KLVG) do not deny that the future of water everywhere is nebulous. Instead, we suggest that climate change is the very reason why we must protect this area. Long Valley irrigation is not luxury water use. It is critical water for disaster prevention in connection to its environmental, recreational, and economic benefits. We cannot guarantee the future, but by working with residents in the Eastern Sierra, LADWP can begin to protect the future of this area.
“It’s a double-edged sword to vilify LADWP. They are as good as they are bad. On the flipside, they help create this fishing industry. This whole area could be one big Fresno,” Leonard added a stark fact. “This could all be developed. Cities are built around water.”
Fred Eaton, former mayor of Los Angeles and the political force behind the Los Angeles Aqueduct, had the foresight to buy the land where the snowmelt fed the streams— Payahuunadü, the land of flowing water. He and the city of Los Angeles were within the law of the time to divert the water runoff into aqueducts for the citizens of Los Angeles, with no legal obligation to leave any water in its local environment. Today we must work with this legacy, the landscape it has left behind, and the two regions it has connected in order to budget our water for its best use, the protection of our environment and communities.