In 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting Mono Lake's tributary streams 350 miles south to meet the growing water demands of Los Angeles.
Deprived of its freshwater sources, the volume of Mono Lake halved, while its salinity doubled. Unable to adapt to these changing conditions within such a short period of time, the ecosystem began to collapse. The photo at left was taken in 1962, after the lake had already dropped almost 25 vertical feet.
Islands, previously important nesting sites, became peninsulas vulnerable to mammalian and reptilian predation. Photosynthetic rates of algae, the base of the food chain, were reduced while reproductive abilities of brine shrimp became impaired. Stream ecosystems 1968unraveled due to lack of water. Air quality grew poor as the exposed lake bed became the source of air-borne particulate matter, violating the Clean Air Act. If something was not done, Mono Lake was certain to become a lifeless chemical sump. The photo at right was taken in 1968. The one below was taken in 1995, at a lake level over 40 vertical feet below the pre-diversion level.
Appalled by this prospect, David Gaines formed the Mono Lake Committee in 1978 and began talking to conservation clubs, schools, service organizations, legislators, lawyers and to anyone who would listen about the value of this high desert lake. Under David Gaines' leadership, the Mono Lake Committee grew to 20,000 members and gained legal and legislative recognition for Mono Lake.
A decade later, David Gaines and a Committee staff volunteer, Don Oberlin, were killed in a winter automobile accident near Lee Vining. Despite the loss of its founder, our citizens' action group has continued to lead the fight to protect Mono Lake.
Since 1978, the Committee has achieved many accomplishments in the fight to protect Mono Lake. Working with the public and an extraordinary coalition of government agencies and non-profit groups, the Committee has brought negotiation, legislation, and litigation to Mono Lake's support.