Artist Statement: Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America; geologists estimate it is over 700,000 years old. In 1941, the city of Los Angeles began diverting water from the lake, causing the water level to lower over the years. By 1982, the water level had dropped by 45 feet; the lake lost half of its volume, doubled in salinity, and 18,000 acres of land were exposed. Islands, previously important nesting sites, became peninsulas vulnerable to land based predators. Algae, the base of the food chain, along with brine shrimp, stopped reproducing. Stream ecosystems unraveled due to lack of water. Air quality grew poor as dusts from the exposed lakebed were picked up by the wind, violating the Clean Air Act. If left unchecked, the lake would eventually become a lifeless wasteland.
In 1994, after a decade of litigation, the state water board ordered that some of the water once diverted to Los Angeles be allowed to flow to the lake. As a result, the lake level has risen by 10 feet to the level it is today, however the lake must rise another 10 feet to meet the terms of the order.
Diverting less water from the lake forced Los Angeles to start conserving water. The city initiated programs to install over one million low-flow toilets and use recycled water for landscape irrigation. To achieve the target goal of the state water board order, more work still needs to be done. As much as 70 percent of all residential water use in Los Angeles goes to landscaping and other outdoor uses.
Is it worth the environmental degradation of draining ancient Mono Lake to maintain lush landscapes such as lawns and tropical plants in an arid climate such as Los Angeles?