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Mono Lake: Surviving the Anthropocene

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Saline lakes are in steady decline around the world. Treasures on a planet of primarily freshwater lakes, saline lakes are unique, wild, and fascinating in their own right, as well as critical niche ecosystems in which birds and people live.

Mono Lake is likely the only salt lake ecosystem on earth with meaningful protection on a watershed scale. It is also a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds like phalaropes, seen here. Photo courtesy of Marie Read.

Because they are located in arid and semi-arid regions where evaporation loss is significant, water diversions have an increased impact on these lakes. Diversions have, in some cases, led to ecological collapse and loss of fisheries and/or critical bird habitat along with catastrophic air quality problems. Climate change is frequently blamed, but saline lakes began shrinking and disappearing decades ago as water diversions increased well ahead of global temperature rise. (more…)

A growing problem for California Gulls: Invasive weed rapidly encroaches on nesting habitat

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Last century’s water diversions from the Mono Basin greatly changed the ecosystem of Mono Lake, and that legacy continues to test successive generations of California Gulls. A falling lake level, the first emergence of the landbridge in 1979, coyotes crossing to Negit Island, and gulls abandoning their once-secure breeding colony—these were tragic events. California Gulls (Larus californicus) became one of the rallying points for saving Mono Lake, and while the colony suffered, the birds adapted and shifted nesting to the newly-emerged islets adjacent to Negit that provided refuge from coyotes because they were still surrounded by water.

By 2018, Bassia hyssopifolia had spread rapidly on the Negit Islets, significantly reducing California Gull nesting habitat. Photo courtesy of Kristie Nelson.

Challenges stack up

Because of lake level fluctuations the coyote problem never completely went away, and even (more…)

Phalaropes in focus

Monday, April 8th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Migrating phalaropes are a summer phenomenon to behold at Mono Lake. When tens of thousands of them arrive they gather and flock—weaving like schools of aerial fish, erupting from and falling to the surface of the lake in giant tornadoes.

Phalaropes in flight over Mono Lake. Photo courtesy of Rick Kattelmann.

Wilson’s and Red-necked phalaropes are shorebirds that rely on alkali fly larvae at Mono Lake in order to molt and double their weight in preparation for migration to South America. These graceful (more…)

Mono Lake Committee objects to Inyo National Forest Plan elements

Thursday, October 25th, 2018 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

On August 3 the Inyo National Forest released its revised land management plan and draft record of decision.

According to the Committee’s analysis, Mono Lake’s tributary streams are eligible for Wild & Scenic River designation. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

Also known as the Inyo National Forest Land Management Plan, this new plan, when final, will replace the 1988 plan that the Inyo has been following. Once the new plan is approved it will provide management guidance for the Inyo’s two million acres over the next two decades.

Since 2014 the Mono Lake Committee has been involved in the public plan revision process, attending meetings, analyzing information, and commenting on the plan revision. Specifically, the Committee has evaluated (more…)

Restoration work begins next to Mono Lake and Tioga Lodge

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

If you have driven by Mono Lake in the last week, you might have seen trucks and heavy equipment working just east of Highway 395 below the Tioga Lodge.

Restoration work has begun just east of Highway 395 below the Tioga Lodge, on a site that was damaged by illegal work in October 2016. Photo by Elin Ljung.

Restoration work has started to rehabilitate the site from damage caused by illegal grading and rerouting a stream from its original channel in October 2016. (more…)

Lee Vining weather almanac: A new water year

Monday, December 18th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

A new water year began on October 1, and it follows the record water year of 2017 when 27.7″ of precipitation fell in Lee Vining. Given the increasing variability of California precipitation, a repeat performance of a wet year is unlikely. October 2017 concluded with 0.08″ of rain, well below the 0.83-inch 30-year average. Average temperatures ran very close to average for daily highs with overnight lows falling slightly below average.

Warm November view from Mono Lake.

Average low temperatures in November 2017 stayed above freezing for the first time on record. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

November left a more notable wake in the Lee Vining weather annals. Temperatures soared well above average and the month concluded as the second-warmest November overall, a small 0.8°F difference behind November 1995. The real measure of warmth was in terms of increasing overnight low temperatures. Average low temperatures in November eclipsed the 30-year record by over 2°F and averaged above freezing (34°F) for the first time. (more…)

An extreme runoff year from the top down

Friday, May 26th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Tioga Pass is closed, but there is a lot activity in the Mono Basin as the peak runoff season is soon to arrive. Streamflows will soon reach levels not seen in decades as 206% of average runoff—the May 1 forecast—comes rushing down in the Mono Basin.

The May 1, 2017 runoff forecast is 206% of normal for the Mono Basin.

(Click to enlarge.) A 180-degree view from Mono Lake to Lundy Canyon and points south from a local peak on May 24, 2017. Photo by Geoff McQuilkin.

This much water is an inspiration to witness, especially after five years of brutal drought conditions. Water is moving down some drainages and steep canyons that rarely, if ever, transport water during the runoff season. Creeks are already flowing at dangerously high levels and attempting to cross Mono Basin streams along fallen logs or other unusual crossing sites during peak flows could be a life or death decision—use extreme caution.

This is a benchmark year, and there is a lot of work for Mono Lake Committee staff documenting stream flows, coordinating critical information with Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Southern California Edison, stream scientists, and other authorities to make sure that everyone can anticipate the challenges and changes ahead for Mono Lake and its tributary streams. Stay tuned—we plan on sharing as much information and as many images as possible here on the Mono-logue, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We have not forgotten the drought years, but forgive us if we temporarily revel in amnesia.

Mono Lake is for the birds … and free bird walks

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Water is everywhere, cottonwoods are throwing cotton, flowers are blooming, and birds are singing. With warming temperatures and longer days birds are becoming more active at Mono Lake, and you can see and hear the birds with a guide, twice weekly at Mono Lake County Park beginning now through the summer.

Brilliant blue Lazuli Buntings are one of the species you could spot during a Friday or Sunday morning bird walk at Mono Lake County Park. Photo by Santiago Escruceria.

County Park offers a diverse habitat for a variety of birds from lakeshore to wetland to towering cottonwoods. Bird walks are free and begin at 8:00am every Friday and Sunday morning through September 3, 2017. Meet at the parking lot and bring sunscreen, water, hat, and binoculars (if you have them). Whether you have a passing interest in birds, or you are a beginning birder, or an advanced birder, there are feathers, songs, and festive color for all.

Removing snow and rumors along the Tioga Pass Road

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director
Tioga Pass Road at 8,000' on April 4, 2017.

Snow is minimal below 8,000 feet on the east side of  Highway 120, but snow depth increases exponentially above 8,500 feet. Photo by Bartshé Miller.

As everyone in California knows, it’s been a remarkable year for precipitation. At the highest elevations above Mono Lake in the vicinity of Tioga Pass, we may be facing a snowpack over 200% of average. April 1 snow surveys revealed nearby sites at all-time record snow depth and water content, while other sites, including Tioga Pass itself, fell just short of past record levels. Snow depth in the region likely moved upward with recent April storms, cold temperatures, and generally unsettled spring weather. (more…)

Charting weather extremes and understanding climate change impacts

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

A wet winter has brought needed relief to a drought-stricken Mono Lake. However, a glimpse at Lee Vining weather data reveals that predictions about climate change in California and the Sierra Nevada are becoming real.

January 2017 set a record for wettest month in Lee Vining’s weather data history: 11.23 inches of precipitation. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Warming temperatures, along with more extreme and less-frequent precipitation, are reflected in our local weather. The record-setting drought of the last five years still casts a shadow across the Mono Basin. Multi-year impacts to the watershed and ecosystem have accumulated due to record high temperatures, remarkably low runoff, and wildfires. As climate forces further change, monitoring, assessment, and adaptation will be critical to the future restoration and protection of Mono Lake. (more…)

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