Mono Lake (KQED Perspective aired March 1995)

Michael Ellis

After all bad news on the political front with the Republicans trying to wreck thirty years of good environmental legislation, I am happy to report that all is just fine at Mono Lake. Awesome is the appropriate word for this immense body of water, the oldest lake in the US. It’s actually a giant caldera, a remnant of a very big volcano and in last month it was ringed by snow-capped mountains. The sky was so blue, the air crisp and clean. It was splendid and all seemed right with the world.

And there is indeed good news, recently a court decision gave Mono Lake a reprieve from the thirst of Los Angeles. The courts guaranteed a lake level desired by biologists and LA agreed not to challenge this decision. After a battle of nearly 16 years we have won. This ruling will allow the lake to live and support the millions of birds that depend on it for vital sustenance.

The Forest Service has built a fancy Visitor Center celebrating the glories of the lake but they were reluctant players in the game to save it. The real hero is the Mono Lake Committee founded by David and Sally Gaines in 1979. I had the pleasure of first meeting David when he was on his way to pitch his idea of saving Mono Lake to the Audubon Society. I remember suggesting to him that it would be a great story for 60 Minutes…. the giants of LA Water district against David, the puny bird watcher. After all everyone had seen Chinatown. He said it was a good idea but what was 60 Minutes? I thought he was joking but his knowledge of that world was then limited. He knew nature. David was a reluctant warrior for the lake. His gentle spirit did not mesh well with conflict but he knew in his heart what was right and that gave him great power. He died in a car wreck in 1986. But his name and memory live on in the hearts and minds of those of us that love Mono Lake and will always remember David Gaines, its premier champion. One mans actions did make a difference. This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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Posted on

August 6, 2009