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Defending the public trust at Mono Lake

Thursday, November 8th, 2018 by Geoff, Executive Director
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2018 Defender of the Trust Peter Vorster. Photo by Andrew Youssef.

The California Supreme Court begins its landmark 1983 Mono Lake decision with these powerful words: “The public trust is an affirmation of the duty of the state to protect the people’s common heritage of streams, lakes, marshlands and tidelands…”

Every other year, to celebrate the history of the public trust at Mono Lake, we organize a special three-day Defense Trust Weekend for the Mono Lake Committee’s high donors. The weekend is full of field trips, good food, and time spent with fellow Mono Lake enthusiasts and Committee Board and staff.

This year we had an open house in the Committee office, a Rush Creek tour with experts including (more…)

Aqueduct retrofit ensures export accuracy: Mono Lake Committee advocacy produces results

Friday, June 29th, 2018 by Geoff, Executive Director
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One thing the Mono Lake Committee and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) can agree on is that accurate measurement of water exported from the Mono Basin is important. One might assume that measuring water sent out of the Mono Basin through the Los Angeles Aqueduct would be fairly straightforward, but due to infrastructure complexities, DWP has historically used a calculation to derive the export amount.

Aqueduct improvements in 2009, shown here, added equipment to directly measure water exports, but the system was unreliable until recent repairs, thanks to the Committee’s persistence. Photo by Greg Reis.

Getting from calculation to measurement

To understand why DWP couldn’t simply measure its (more…)

The future of Sierra Nevada snow: Dr. Alex Hall on the climate future of the Sierra

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018 by Geoff, Executive Director
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What will happen to the Sierra Nevada’s snowpack as climate change impacts accumulate through the 21st century? This question is vital to both the ecological health of the Range of Light and to water delivery systems throughout California. And, it matters a great deal to Mono Lake and its many miles of tributary streams, which depend on Sierra runoff for their vitality.

A view of the Eastern Sierra from Virginia Canyon to Mt. Conness, including Mono Lake. Photo by Geoff McQuilkin.

Forecasts of the future rely on complex climate modeling, and I talked with Dr. Alex Hall, Professor of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences at UCLA, about the work he and his team have been conducting to produce actionable climate science. Dr. Hall heads the Center for Climate Science, where they have developed cutting-edge downscaling techniques to create geographically detailed climate projections for the Los Angeles area and the Sierra Nevada.

Geoff: Thanks for taking time to talk, Alex. You have just released a major report, Climate Change in the Sierra Nevada: California’s Water Future. What are the big takeaway messages?

Alex: Temperatures across the Sierra Nevada are warming (more…)

Diverse watchdog duties keep the Mono Lake Committee busy

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 by Geoff, Executive Director
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The Mono Lake Committee is serious about protecting and restoring Mono Lake, its tributary streams, and surrounding lands. That means being on constant alert as a watchdog, and recent months have provided some interesting examples of what that requires.

The Committee keeps a close eye on daily Mono Basin streamflows at multiple locations, such as the recovering Rush Creek bottomlands. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

Sometimes the Committee chases issues that have lengthy histories and require continuous pressure to move toward resolution—the 2013 Stream Restoration Agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) is one example. Years of work (more…)

Farewell to Mono Lake advocate Genny Smith, 1922-2018

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Genny Smith, 1922–2018. Photo courtesy of Genny Smith.

On Sunday, March 4, the Eastern Sierra lost a lifelong champion with the passing of writer and conservationist Genny Smith at age 96.

Genny played a key role in protecting Mono Lake, getting involved in 1982 as a Board member of the young Mono Lake Committee at a time when court battles with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power were heating up. She was a strong advocate for protecting the special wild places that make California so wonderful, and she had the determination and strategic thinking to turn such lofty goals into real accomplishments. She helped hone the strategy of recruiting members to the cause, making sure that the Committee was building a coalition of people who cared about Mono Lake for the long haul. In later years as a Board Member Emeritus she was always available to give advice—and inspiration—on the continuing efforts to protect this place. (more…)

Every drop counts—make a 2017 donation now!

Friday, December 29th, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Photo courtesy of Matt Ludin.

As I look back on 2017, I see many reasons to celebrate Mono Lake’s recovery and the programs of the Mono Lake Committee, which you make possible. It was a truly remarkable year—complete with a record winter and Mono Lake rising over four feet!

From protecting the California Gull colony by putting up a temporary fence on the landbridge, to monitoring the streams during the biggest water year on record, to supporting aerial Eared Grebe surveys, to introducing thousands of students and visitors to Mono Lake and the inspiring lessons it offers, we couldn’t have done it without you.

Even as we celebrate progress made, new management challenges and protection issues are constantly arising. The Committee works year-round to protect and restore Mono Lake, its tributary streams, and your favorite places in the Mono Basin, and we need your support to keep going strong in the year ahead. We hope you will 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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Huge runoff raises Mono Lake, reshapes streams

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 by Geoff, Executive Director
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Last year we were drought weary and went into winter with low expectations. Those expectations were proven wrong—very wrong. 2017 became the winter of storm after storm after storm that led to a spring and summer of genuine awe at the depth of the snowpack and magnitude of the runoff.

During peak flow season Mono Lake Committee staff and hydrology consultants spent days out along the streams, tracking—and reveling in—the incredible amounts of water. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

It is hard to fathom the scale of what happened. In three weeks in January, scientists note, more than the equivalent of the entire average annual flow of the Colorado River fell as snow onto the Sierra Nevada. And it didn’t stop there. By April the Mono Basin watershed had seen snowfall equivalent to four drought winters—2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015—all stacked on top of each other.

When longer days and warmer temperatures arrived, the snow began to melt and a remarkable runoff season began. The Mono Basin runoff forecast (more…)

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…)

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