Five things to know about Mono Lake – and how it compares to the Great Salt Lake

The two bodies of water share many similarities and a few key differences.

(Spenser Heaps | Deseret News) One of Mono Lake’s signature tuff formations is pictured on the south shore of the lake in Mono County, Calif., Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

Editor’s noteThis story from the Great Salt Lake Collaborative is part of day three of our series, “At the Water’s Edge: Searching for Solutions in the Great Salt Lake’s Sister Lakes Across the Great Basin.” The in-depth project features the work of multiple reporters from multiple Utah news outlets. Read additional stories and view photos, videos and interactive maps on https://greatsaltlakenews.org.

• Like Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake is too salty for fish, which means brine shrimp thrive. But the lakes have different species of shrimp: Franciscan brine shrimp live in the Great Salt Lake and Artemia monica live in Mono Lake. Both shrimp have unique life cycles, giving birth to live young when the weather is warm and algae is plentiful. But with the onset of winter, shrimp lay cysts. These cysts hatch when the temperatures become favorable again.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Great Salt Lake brine shrimp of all ages, including adults with eggs attached near their tails, are seen in this 2001 photo.

A big difference between the species is that Mono Lake shrimp cysts sink, while Great Salt Lake cysts float. Harvesting brine shrimp cysts has become a multi-million dollar industry in Utah because the floating cysts are easier to collect, package, and ship. Live shrimp are harvested at Mono Lake to feed exotic pet fish, but on a much smaller scale.

[To view photos, videos and interactive maps, click here.]

• Mono Lake is currently the largest active source of human-caused dust pollution in the United States, recently eclipsing Owens Lake for that title after the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy conducted a costly remediation effort to the latter. And like Owens Lake, Mono Lake’s dust is the result of diversions from its tributaries.

(Spenser Heaps | Deseret News) Dust blows in the wind behind an air quality monitor on the north shore of Mono Lake in Mono County, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022.

• Mono Lake, however, is prevented from having its water fully siphoned off and becoming a dry salt flat like Owens Lake. That’s because environmental advocates and nonprofits have successfully argued in court that California has a duty to protect natural resources like Mono Lake for the benefit of the public. Utah has different policies and the Great Salt Lake is much larger and much more complicated, with more towns, farmers and industries exploiting its tributaries. It is unclear whether the same legal strategy would succeed in the hive state.

• Despite a state ordinance requiring Mono Lake to rise to 6,392 feet above sea level, it remains well below that goal, even after years of reduced water use by the LADWP. Like Utah, LA faces pressure from population growth and aridification fueled by climate change. Officials there say Mono Lake’s targets need to be revisited as the water supply becomes increasingly uncertain.

(Spenser Heaps | Deseret News) A sign, which shows Mono Lake’s historic water level in 1941 before the Los Angeles water diversions began, is pictured at Mono Lake Park near Lee Vining, Calif., on Monday, August 8. 2022.

• The Great Salt Lake and Mono Lake are a critical stopover for millions of birds on their migration path through the Western Hemisphere. One such species is the California Gull, Utah’s state bird. And like the Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake has islands that protect birds from predators during vulnerable nesting times. But when the water gets too low, it jeopardizes islands, habitat and food sources.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that brings together news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake – and what that can be done to make a difference before it’s too late. Read all our stories on greatsaltlakenews.org.

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