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Water: Stream flow issues crop up in Mono Basin

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power chided for missing minimum stream flow targets and gaps in Mono Lake monitoring

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A Landsat image of California’s Mono Lake at an elevation of about 6,383 feet, about 9 feet below the ordered restoration level.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Conservation advocates in California say recent failures by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to live up to the terms of a restoration agreement for Mono Lake show a lack of attentiveness to the crucial unfinished work of healing an ecosystem that was nearly destroyed by decades of water diversions.

The Mono Lake Committee, which advocates for the saline eastern California lake, detailed some of the violations in a letter to the California State Water Resources Control Board. The committee also outlined some of the issues in a recent update of its online newsletter.

LADWP started diverting the freshwater tributaries of the ancient saline lake in 1941. By 1982, the lake had dropped 45 feet, lost half its volume – and the salinity of the water doubled, resulting in all sorts of negative impacts to the unique desert-lake ecosystem and the riparian corridors along its tributaries. More details about the impacts of the diversions are online at this Mono Lake Committee web page.

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Op-ed: Some water lessons from Mono Lake

Bob Berwyn portrait

Bob Berwyn.

Public Trust doctrine offers hope for Colorado’s rivers

By Bob Berwyn

I first discovered Mono Lake quite by accident in the early 1980s. I was driving from Colorado toward Mammoth Lakes and somehow I ended up cutting across the Eastern Sierra high desert on Highway 167 — I think I was probably looking for an obscure hot spring. Just before dawn, with a fat moon hanging over the Sierra Crest, I saw this great  disk of a lake, shining silvery blue in the crepuscular light, looking completely out of place in the high, dry plains of the Great Basin.

I rubbed my eyes, thinking I was starting to hallucinate after 15 straight hours behind the wheel, then turned south on Highway 395 until I found a shady spot at Mono Lake County Park where I slept for a few hours. In the afternoon, I wandered down to the edge of the water and learned just a little bit about the magical tufa towers and the natural history of the lake, as well as the water diversions by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that threatened to collapse the ecosystem. Continue reading

Morning photo: Flyover

West Coast-Denver flight a great geology lesson

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Salty Mono Lake is a unique inland sea in eastern California, and an enduring symbol of success for environmental advocacy, activism and education.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — I’m one of those annoying airplane passengers who always wants a window seat. If I don’t have one, I may be the guy next to you who leans across your lap to catch a glimpse of a familiar or exotic landscape from 35,000 feet up. I’m pretty sure I’ve always been that way, even as a kid, when on family trips, I stared out of the plane window for hours.

Even on trips across the ocean, the ever-changing patterns of sunlight reflecting on the sea and shifting cloud bands hypnotizes me. And if I’m flying over territory that I’ve explored on the ground, so much the better. It’s always fun to spot a familiar landmark from a new perspective.

So on a recent flight from the Bay Area back to Denver, it was a gift to fly over Mono Lake, where I spent some formative years learning about western water issues and environmental advocacy from the incredible grassroots Mono Lake Committee. Later in the flight, the widespread landscape alteration from oil and gas drilling in the intermountain West became apparent, along with slices of untouched Utah wilderness and national park lands.

In this series, the stark light of mid-day and the muted colors of winter paint a subdued picture of the interior West, especially through the filters of my iPhone app. All these images were shot with an iPhone 4S. Continue reading

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