Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in a basin that has no outlet to the ocean. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. The elevation is 6.378 feet and dose get a lot of snow. It is a shallow lake, only 60 feet deep with no fish. The spectacular “tufa towers,” calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Alkali flie larvae live near the surface and the bird feed on them. The primary lake life is composed of algae, brine shrimp, and alkali flies, and is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Nesting birds consist of California Gulls (50,000, 85% of California’s breeding population and second largest colony in the world after the Great Salt Lake in Utah) and Snowy Plovers (400, 11% of the state’s breeding population). Migratory birds include Eared Grebes (1.5-2 million, 30% of the North American population), Wilson’s Phalaropes (80,000, 10% of the world population), Red-necked Phalaropes (60,000, 2-3% of the world population), and 79 other species of waterbirds. It contains chlorides, carbonates, and sulfates – a chloride-carbonate-sulfate “triple water” lake. It is alkaline, with a pH of 10, and almost three times as salty as the ocean. 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.
|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. The photo at left was taken in 1962, after the lake had already dropped almost 25 vertical feet. In 1994, the State Water Resources Control Board issued D1631 ordering minimum flows and maintenance flows for all of the diverted streams. Stream restoration plans approved in 1998 modified the maintenance flows somewhat. The result is that it is now very full and the once picturesque tufa spires are now mostly under water.
My winter trip here was wonderful with a think fog covering the lake and the snow was covering the landscape with about 18 inches of powdery ice crystals that stuck to everything it touched. Winter is a particularly beautiful time at Mono Lake. The crowds are gone, a quiet stillness prevails, and snow crystals sparkle on the tufa towers.
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