Working To Protect Mono Lake


A Mono Lake tufa tower is seen at sunrise.


Nestled between the arid Great Basin and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, Mono Lake is an ancient saline lake that covers over 70 square miles and supports a unique and productive ecosystem. The lake has no fish; instead it is home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies. Freshwater streams feed Mono Lake, supporting lush riparian forests of cottonwood and willow along their banks. Along the lakeshore, scenic limestone formations known as tufa towers rise from the water’s surface.

In 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting Mono Lake's tributary streams 350 miles south to meet the growing water demands of Los Angeles.

In 1962, Mono Lake had already dropped almost 25 vertical feet. Deprived of its freshwater sources, the volume of Mono Lake halved, while its salinity doubled. Unable to adapt to these changing conditions within such a short period of time, the ecosystem began to collapse.

Islands, previously important nesting sites, became peninsulas vulnerable to mammalian and reptilian predation. Photosynthetic rates of algae, the base of the food chain, were reduced while reproductive abilities of brine shrimp became impaired. Stream ecosystems unraveled due to lack of water. Air quality grew poor as the exposed lake bed became the source of air-borne particulate matter, violating the Clean Air Act. If something was not done, Mono Lake was certain to become a lifeless chemical sump.

Appalled by this prospect, David Gaines formed the Mono Lake Committee in 1978 and began talking to conservation clubs, schools, service organizations, legislators, lawyers and to anyone who would listen about the value of this high desert lake. Under David Gaines' leadership, the Mono Lake Committee grew to 20,000 members and gained legal and legislative recognition for Mono Lake.

A decade later, David Gaines and a Committee staff volunteer, Don Oberlin, were killed in a winter automobile accident near Lee Vining. Despite the loss of its founder, our citizens' action group has continued to lead the fight to protect Mono Lake.

Since 1978, the Committee has achieved many accomplishments in the fight to protect Mono Lake. Working with the public and an extraordinary coalition of government agencies and non-profit groups, the Committee has brought negotiation, legislation, and litigation to Mono Lake's support.