A very special and unique place.

An Overview And Update Of Current Status
By David Carle, Park Ranger, Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve

BACKGROUND

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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Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve
 
 
 
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