An Overview And Update Of Current Status
By David Carle, Park Ranger, Mono Lake
Tufa State Reserve
The long battle to protect Mono Lake from the
effects of stream diversions to Los Angeles produced
a plan, September 1994, meant to protect the lake.
Four of the streams that feed Mono Lake were
diverted in 1941 to supply water to Los Angeles.
As a result, the lake fell 45 feet by 1982. With
half as much water, the salinity of the alkaline
lake doubled. Life in the lake was threatened
by the increasingly harsh water, including algae,
brine shrimp and alkali flies food for
over a million migratory and nesting birds. Also,
nesting islands were becoming connected to shore,
no longer safe from predators like coyotes. Even
air quality became an issue, as thousands of acres
of salt flat were exposed. Wind brought increasingly
severe dust storms, so dangerous to human health
that they violated Federal Air Quality Standards.
In 1978 citizens groups began the effort to protect
Mono Lake. The Mono Lake Committee and National Audubon
Society took Los Angeles to court. Various government
agencies, including the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic
Area and the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, joined with
research scientists and the citizen groups in the hearings
before the Water Board.
Sixteen years after the Mono Lake Committee began their
efforts, following a long series of court decisions
which mandated protection for the lake, the State Water
Board amended the City's water diversion licenses. Los
Angeles announced that it would not appeal, but would
move forward, cooperatively, to implement the requirements
in the decision.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WATER BOARD ORDER
The decision set a lake level goal of 6392 feet above
sea level (a rise that was predicted to take twenty
years, with normal winter runoff.) At that point, the
lake will still be 25 feet below its pre-diversion elevation.
But salinity will be reduced, which will help the lake's
algae, shrimp, flies and birds. The islands will be
surrounded by plenty of protective water. And the dust
storms should be reduced to acceptable levels.
The streams which had been diverted have also received
attention during this process. They are not only being
rewatered, but the fisheries values of those streams
must be actively restored. Minimum flows are spelled
out based on natural flow cycles.
The Water Board decision recognizes that some of Mono
Lake's pre-diversion qualities will not be restored
at the 6392 level. A waterfowl habitat restoration plan
is also required, to help mitigate lost shoreline qualities
that once attracted close to a million ducks and geese.
The decision to protect Mono Lake, after so many years
of battling in court, was facilitated by plans to build
several water reclaimation plants in Los Angeles. Federal
and state money is being provided for those facilities,
which will more than replace the amount of water "lost"
to Los Angeles from the Mono Basin.
Also, after the lake reaches its new stabilization
level, Los Angeles will be able to divert any water
in excess of that required for the streams and lake.
CURRENT LAKE LEVEL STATUS:
Pre-diversion elevation -- 6417 feet above sea level
Target elevation (average) -- 6392 feet
September, 2005 elevation -- 6382.4 feet
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