For those who live near the salty shores of California’s Mono Lake, October can be a terrible month. It is then that violent winds sweep the open bottom of Lake Mono, or “bath ring,” and set off clouds of fine dust that blanket houses, ranch grounds, and scenic trails.
For 50 years, the huge lake has been the source of so-called PM10 particulate matter – dust so fine that it can clog a person’s airways, enter the lungs, and worsen serious heart and lung conditions such as asthma.
“We have a public health crisis in our hands,” grumbled Phil Kiddu, the United District’s Great Basin Air Pollution Control Officer, who oversees a battery of monitoring devices that help chronicle the dust storms hitting Mono Lake this time of the year. …
Kiddu and others have long blamed the city of Los Angeles for creating this pollution hazard. Since World War II, the city has diverted water from streams that flow into a lake on the arid eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. Critics argue that without an adequate source of lake recharge, the lake had to slowly contract, exposing more and more of the lake’s alkaline bottom to the air.
Now, after two years of severe drought, Mono County environmentalists, tribal leaders and air regulators have begun a campaign to raise the lake’s level. They hope to achieve this by preventing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy from diverting water from the lake’s tributaries.
The campaign is based on a new argument that Los Angeles can afford to end its water withdrawal here because Angelenos are now experts in water conservation.
For its part, the Department of Water and Energy said Mono County officials should first investigate if the dust is coming from elsewhere before blaming.
Mono officials like Kiddoo have often talked about possible lawsuits as part of a protracted dispute, but so far they have not gone to court. Recently, however, a coalition of 18 environmental groups and Great Basin County sent a letter to DWP stating that Los Angeles was saving enough water that it could afford to stop withdrawing from tributaries to Lake Mono.
They noted that water consumption in the WSP service area fell by 22% from the 2013-2014 fiscal year, according to the WIP water management plan. In addition, Angelina’s nearly 4 million residents now use 40 less gallons per person per day than 15 years ago, even in drier conditions.
DWP links these advances to strategies that include stormwater capture, groundwater recharge, recycling, low-flow toilets, and $ 2 billion dust control projects in Dry Lake Owens, about 140 miles south. These projects use gravel, vegetation, and other techniques to trap dust in Lake Owens instead of using large amounts of water.
Mono County officials say the measures have saved DWP more than half the 16,000 acres of water the city normally exports from the Mono Basin per year.
“It’s time for the city to share its environmental benefits,” said Wendy Schneider, executive director of Friends of the Inyo, a non-profit environmental group. “Lives and ecosystems are at stake.”
Regional air quality officials, environmental groups, and Native American tribal chiefs have asked DWP and its delegates to start discussions on reducing or even stopping leaks to minimize the “potential city liability and litigation that will undoubtedly follow if more is due. an adversarial approach be applied. “
Anselmo Collins, senior assistant general manager of DWP’s water system, responded in a letter late last month stating that the agency’s “ability to engage constructively” in such discussions is limited without additional data and analysis of all possible sources of pollution that could potentially affect quality. air in the region.
With this goal in mind, Collins urged the Great Basin area to investigate potential sources outside the lake, including “wildfire burn scars, wild horse collisions, and historical fluctuations” in lake level “that preceded the LADWP leaks.”
Known for its tall rocky tuff formations, Lake Mono is the remnant of a vast inland sea where fresh alpine snow melt cascade descending from the slopes of the Sierra combines with salt water, which is home to salted shrimp and flocks of alkaline flies that provide food for migratory birds. , including about 50,000 California gulls.
The controversy over the withdrawal of water in Los Angeles from the Mono tributaries is one of the longest-running environmental battles in California.
By the late 1970s, tributary streams dried up, dropping the lake level by more than 40 feet and doubling the salinity of the water. Smelly salt marshes and choking dust storms followed.
Official protests began with a lawsuit that a grassroots coalition of residents and environmental groups filed with the Mono County Supreme Court in 1979 against DWP. The lawsuit alleged a breach of public trust and creating public and private trouble as a result of the exposure of 14,700 acres of the former lake bed.
The breeding cycles of Western gulls became a thorny political drama for Los Angeles when the plummeting water level revealed a land bridge connecting the island’s rookery to the shore, allowing coyotes to swim and feast on birds and their eggs. The Army Corps of Engineers tried to blow up the ground bridge with dynamite, but the manure only exploded in the sky and then fell back into place.
In 1983, the US Supreme Court upheld a ruling that environmentalists have the right to dispute the amount of water taken by Los Angeles from tributaries. Ten years later, the State Water Resources Board established regulations for the export of DWP water from the Mono Basin.
When Lake Mono is between 6,380 and 6,392 feet above sea level, DWP can export 16,000 acre feet of water per year. If the lake water level drops to between 6377 feet and 6,380 feet, DWP exports will be reduced to 4,500 acre-feet of water per year. If the lake is below 6377 feet, DWP cannot export water.
Once Lake Mono rises above its target of 6392 feet above sea level, DWP will be allowed to export all water in excess of its required 89,000 acre inflows.
Since 1994, the lake level has fluctuated about 10-12 feet below the target level.
“The road to raising the lake to a healthy level is not on schedule and the consequences are dire,” said Jeffrey McQuilkin, executive director of the Mono Lake Committee, a non-profit organization that emerged in the 1970s to try to prevent Lake’s death.
Recently, the state water resources council approved a 2013 voluntary agreement aimed at rehabilitating watercourses caused by the Los Angeles intakes.
The plan is to release jets of water from an earthen dam at the seven-mile stretch of Rush Creek to simulate annual flood cycles, spreading willow seeds and promoting healthy populations of trout.
But the agreement does not affect either the water intake or the height of the lake. Even now, the drop in water levels during the current drought exposes a more alkaline lake bed and threatens to reopen a land bridge connecting the island rookery to one of the world’s three largest Californian gull colonies.
A mile southeast of the small mountain town of Lee Vining, the gateway to Yosemite National Park, there is a stretch of crusty coastline where Mono Lake Committee staff and DWP officials meet each year in early April to read the lake’s level gauge at the beginning. new stock of the year.
Maureen McGlinchey, the committee’s hydrological modeling specialist, visits the site at least once a month to collect all the information using binoculars, water sample bottles, a laptop and a gadget that measures wind speed, ambient temperature and relative humidity.
On October 26, she reported that the surface of the lake rises 6,379.85 feet above sea level or 12.15 feet below the target level.
“If the latest trends in hydroclimate continue in the future and Los Angeles continues to divert water from the area, the restoration of Lake Mono will be halted,” she said. “If, however, Los Angeles stops withdrawing, Lake Mono will reach its target level within 20 years.”