One of the most highly publicized and protracted land-use conflicts currently being waged in the western United States involves Mono Lake, a large, hypersaline water body that lies in the lee of California's Sierra Nevada. Since 1940, when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began to divert the tributary streams that feed Mono Lake, the lake surface has dropped 45 ft (14 m), lake volume has been halved, and lake salinity has doubled. Dust storms resulting from deflation of newly exposed playa surfaces have increased in intensity, and the spatial dimensions of lacustrine habitats have been reduced. Islands used by nesting gulls have become peninsulas, permitting coyotes to invade and disrupt the rookeries.An essential first step in resolving the Mono Lake predicament involves quantifying the relationship between lake behavior and the environmental variables that lie at the center of the controversy. This article documents these relationships, and explores some of the problems inherent in developing a management plan for Mono Lake. The approach taken here may be useful in resolving environmental problems at other of the world's closed lakes which, in increasing numbers and to an increasing degree, are being drawn down by the diversion of water.
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