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Ebb and Flow

In 1941, to quench the thirst of a booming population, the Los Angeles Water and Power Authority started tapping the tributaries that fed the rare saltwater ecosystem of Mono Lake. Lake levels had dropped significantly by 1968, and it didn't take long before the ecosystem started to collapse. At Mono Lake's worst point, water levels were down 45 feet, salinity had doubled, and bird populations had dropped by 99 percent. The state eventually restored some -- but not all -- of the lake's flows. Today, salinity is dropping, California gulls are returning, and, as the bottom photograph shows, vegetation is growing back. But under the current restoration plan, Mono Lake will remain 25 feet shy of its original water levels, a compromise that means this place has changed forever.

Photos of Mono Lake

Photos: Courtesy of the Mono Lake Committee

OnEarth. Fall 2002
Copyright 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council