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The Mono-logue » Geoff, Executive Director

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Counting snowflakes—all of them: Talking with Dr. Tom Painter about the Airborne Snow Observatory

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Just how much water is contained in the Sierra Nevada snowpack? NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with the California Department of Water Resources and the USDA Agricultural Research Service, have developed the high-tech Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) to answer that question with greater precision and clarity than ever before.

Using a plane with an imaging spectrometer and a precise LIDAR measurement system, ASO scientists can calculate how much water is contained in every square meter of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Photo courtesy of Tom Painter, NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Flying out of nearby Mammoth Lakes, a plane equipped with an imaging spectrometer and an incredibly precise LIDAR laser measurement system has been gathering vast quantities of data that allow scientists to calculate how much water is contained in every square meter of snowpack in the high Sierra. Knowing how much water is stored in the snowpack and waiting to flow down Rush Creek, for example, is incredibly valuable. The details of how ASO works are fascinating and the big-picture implications for Mono Lake and all of California water management are exciting. I talked with ASO Principal Investigator Dr. Tom Painter in May during a break in his schedule between flights, project development, and a roster of presentations worldwide. (more…)

Mono Lake’s California Gulls safe for the season

Thursday, May 25th, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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A mile of citizen-funded solar-powered electric fence is up and running, protecting Mono Lake’s nesting gulls—one of the three largest colonies in the world—from mainland predators. The fence is the result of a year and a half of planning by the Mono Lake Committee and California State Parks along with other agency partners, a dedicated local installation team, and generous funding from Mono Lake supporters across the country.

The temporary electric fence stretching one mile across the landbridge has 11 motion-activated wildlife cameras with infrared nighttime flash capability along its length. In late April, camera #5 documented a coyote walking the fence line, confirming that the fence is functioning as a coyote barrier. Mono Lake Committee wildlife camera photo.

Why is the temporary fence—which will be removed when nesting is finished—needed? Five years of drought lowered Mono Lake seven feet, shrinking the protective moat of water between the lake’s north shore and Negit Island and adjacent islets—exposing a landbridge that allows coyotes access to the lake’s long-established nesting colony of California Gulls. Last summer signs were found on a few of these islets that coyotes had indeed walked the landbridge and then swum the remaining 500 feet or so of shallow water to prey on eggs and chicks, disrupting nesting and causing gulls to be suspicious of returning to these sites in future years.

Not a typical fence site

The electric mesh netting fence used for the project (more…)

Record winter snowpack melt underway

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Mono Lake, and all of us here at the Mono Lake Committee, have just been through the biggest winter on record. It is an abrupt and welcome end to drought conditions (though not to all the effects of the drought), made all the more enjoyable by the way it crept up unannounced and surprised us with its intensity.

So much snow arrived in the Mono Basin this winter that even ephemeral streams far east of the Sierra flowed with water this spring. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Stories abound of Highway 395 being closed for days, snow blanketing every facet of the Sierra Nevada crest, and backcountry snowfields that measure taller than any building in Mono County. Speculation about an opening date for Tioga Pass—certain to be among the latest ever—is a popular springtime guessing game in town.

So what does it all mean for Mono Lake, its tributary streams, and the operation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct? Here’s the exciting outlook:

Mono Lake on the rise

With a deep snowpack fueling runoff that is forecast at 206% of average, Mono Lake is expected to rise (more…)

Mono Lake to stay above critical level

Thursday, March 30th, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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The big water question of this year for Mono Lake—I expected—was going to be the same as 2016: Would Los Angeles be halted from exporting water due to Mono Lake’s low level, or would the already-reduced export allotment continue?

Mono Lake won’t drop below 6377 feet above sea level this year, which means that Los Angeles is allowed to export a total of 4,500 acre-feet of water. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

The rule is well established: When the lake drops below, or is forecasted to drop below, 6377 feet above sea level, water exports must halt. So our action plan was for detailed lake level forecasting and analysis (last year the lake remained a mere two inches above that critical level) and a fair amount of discussion with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP), to be sure any export cutback happened smoothly. In fact, I visited with the head of DWP’s aqueduct system and water operations in December to talk about this very topic.

But then came January and February, and the weather patterns of the Pacific gave us a rather wonderfully different reality (more…)

Every drop counts—make a 2016 donation now!

Friday, December 30th, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Photo courtesy of John Dittli.

Photo courtesy of John Dittli.

Together, we survived yet another year of drought. The Mono Lake Committee works year-round to protect and restore Mono Lake, its tributary streams, and your favorite places in the Mono Basin, and we couldn’t do it without your support. We hope you’ll consider making a year-end donation to help these ongoing efforts.

Making a donation is quick and easy—click the button below or give us a call at (760) 647-6595. Thank you!

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Illegal grading on Mono Lake’s shore

Thursday, October 20th, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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If you’ve driven by Mono Lake on Highway 395 in the past few days, you probably saw a large excavator working down by the lakeshore across from the Tioga Lodge and wondered what was going on. We did too, and knowing that it’s a sensitive, and protected, area, we checked into it. What we found was disturbing.

2016-10-19-tioga-lodge-state-land-violations

A newly constructed dirt road departs the Tioga Lodge property and goes well into the shoreline area, which is protected as part of the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. The excavator was at work clearing willows and vegetation from approximately three acres of protected land. Needless to say, this kind of blatant violation is unacceptable and Mono Lake Committee staff jumped on the issue immediately.  (more…)

California Gull protection likely needed in 2017

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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California’s drought has lowered Mono Lake to the point at which the nation’s second largest California Gull rookery, home to 50,000 nesting birds, is in danger. The shrinking moat of water between Negit Island and the lake’s north shore could soon prove inadequate in deterring predators like coyotes.

Committee wildlife cameras have captured evidence that coyotes are currently active in the landbridge area along Mono Lake’s north shore. Mono Lake Committee wildlife camera photo.

Committee wildlife cameras have captured evidence that coyotes are currently active in the landbridge area along Mono Lake’s north shore. Mono Lake Committee photo.

While it appears that Mono Lake will stay just barely high enough to provide protection during the 2016 nesting season, the lake level forecast places it half a foot below that same threshold at the start of the 2017 nesting season.

As a result, management discussions have progressed from contingency planning to the actual logistics of how to efficiently construct a (more…)

Mono Lake in another drought year

Sunday, June 19th, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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When the California State Water Resources Control Board protected Mono Lake in 1994 by revising Los Angeles’ water rights in a landmark decision, it linked lake level and water exports together. The closer the lake is to its mandated ecologically sound level, the more water Los Angeles is authorized to export.

This approach, advocated by the Mono Lake Committee to protect Mono Lake and meet real water needs in the city, also works in reverse: the lower the lake, the less water can be exported.

Newsletter-Su-pull-quote

Last year, with the level of Mono Lake falling due to drought, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) reduced exports by 70%, as required by the State Water Board rules. This year, (more…)

April 1 Mono Lake level close to critically low threshold

Friday, April 1st, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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This morning Mono Lake Committee staff met with Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) personnel to conduct the official annual April 1 reading of the lake level together. The consensus: Mono Lake stands at 6378.11 feet above sea level.

Mono Lake is now just 13 inches above the ecologically precipitous 6377-foot elevation at which the nesting islands become landbridged, lake salinity hits new highs, air quality problems worsen, and stream delta habitat conditions degrade.

Measuring Mono Lake's April 1 elevation

DWP’s Steve Rich and Robbie Di Paolo from the Mono Lake Committee read the lake level gauge together this morning. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

With those concerns in mind, the State Water Board rules are more nuanced this year for determining whether or not DWP can export water to Los Angeles. Not only does the lake have to be above 6377 feet for today’s measurement, it also has to be forecast to stay above 6377 every day of the coming year. (more…)

Will Mono Lake rise in 2016?

Saturday, March 12th, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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The question for 2016: Will the winter be big enough to make Mono Lake rise? The short answer is: stay tuned to see what happens in the second half of winter. Snowpack conditions are the key to lake level forecasting, and they are currently far better than the last four drought years. But the snowpack is not yet above average for the Mono Basin.

Mono Lake Committee staff walked to the narrow moat of water that still separates Negit Island from the mainland last November. Photo by Elin LJung.

Mono Lake Committee staff walked to the narrow moat of water that still separates Negit Island from the mainland last November. Photo by Elin Ljung.

Will water exports be allowed?

The lake level is currently 6378 feet above sea level. The rules controlling water exports to Los Angeles recognize the ecological jeopardy the lake is in when it approaches 6377 feet, and they add a twist. As usual, the lake level gets measured on April 1—if it is below 6377, no exports are allowed for the following 12 months. That part is straightforward and easy.

The twist comes in when the hydrologic modeling (more…)

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