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THE MO N O B A S I N E C O S Y S T E M Elects of Changing Lake Level Mono Basin Ecosystem Study Committee Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources National Research Council National Academy Press Washington, D.C. 1987
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NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS · 2101 Cons~dtudon Avenue, NVV · Washington, DC 20418 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Gov- erning Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Insti- tute of Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences. is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating soci- ety of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general wel- fare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scien- tific and technical matters. Dr. Frank Press is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engi- neers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The In~tit~'t~ of M~rli~ine WE estahlished in 1970 bv the National Academv of Sciences to secure the services o' eminent members or appropriate pros ess~ons In fine examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its con- gressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own ini- tiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Samuel O. Thier is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and of advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Frank Press and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council. Support for this project was provided by contract 05-85-01 between NAS and the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 87-62016 ISBN 0-309-03777-8 Copyright @' 1987 by the National Academy of Sciences No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, or in the form of a phonographic recording, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise copied for public or private use, without written permission from the publisher, except for the purposes of official use by the U.S. government. Printed in the United States of America Cover Photograph by David Policansky
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MONO BASIN ECOSYSTEM STUDY COMMITTEE Duncan T. Patten, Arizona State University, Tempe, Chairman Frank P. Conte, Oregon State University, Corvallis William E. Cooper, Michigan State University, East . Lansing John Dracup, University of California, Los Angeles Shirley Dreiss, University of California, Santa Cruz Kimball Harper, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah George L. Hunt, Jr., University of California, Irvine Peter Kilham, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Harolc! E. Klieforth, Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada John M. Melack, University of California, Santa Barbara Stanley A. Temple, University of Wisconsin, Madison Staff Ruth S. DeFries, Staff Officer David Policansky, Staff Officer Tracy L. Brandt, Administrative Secretary · · —
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BOARD ON ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES AND TOXICOLOGY Donald Hornig, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, Chairman Alvin L. Alm, Thermal Analytical, Inc., Waltham, Massachusetts Richard N. L. Andrews, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Richard A. Conway, Union Carbide Corporation, South Charleston, West Virginia William E. Cooper, Michigan State University, East Lansing John Doull, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City Benjamin G. Ferris, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts Sheldon K. Friedlander, University of California, Los Angeles Bernard Goldstein, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, New Jersey Philip Landrigan, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York Philip A. Palmer, E. I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., Wilmington, Delaware Emil Pfitzer, Hoffman-La Rouche Inc., Nutley, New Jersey Paul Portney, Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C. Paul Risser, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque William H. Rodgers, University of Washington, Seattle F. Sherwood Rowland, University of California, Irvine Liane B. Russell, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee Ellen Silbergeld, Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, D.C. Peter Spencer, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York Staff Devra L. Davis, Director James J. Reisa, Senior Staff Officer Jacqueline Prince, Staff Associate 1V
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COMMISSION ON PHYSICAL SCIENCES, MATHEMATICS, AND RESOURCES Norman Hackerman, Robert A. Welch Foundation, Houston, Chairman Clarence R. Allen, California Institute of Technology Thomas D. Barrow, Standard Oil Company, Ohio, Houston (retired) Elkan R. Blout, Harvard Medical School, Boston George F. Carrier, Harvard University, Cambridge Dean E. Eastman, IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York Joseph L. Fisher, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia William A. Fowler, California Institute of Technology Gerhart Friedlander, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, Long Island, New York Mary L. Good, Allied Signal Corporation, Des Plaines, Illinois Phillip A. Griffiths, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina I. Ross Macdonald, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Charles J. Mankin, The University of Oklahoma, Norman Perry L. McCarty, Stanford University, Stanford, California William D. Phillips, Mallinckro~t, Inc., St. Louis Richard I. Reed, University of Washington, Seattle Robert E. Sievers, University of Colorado, Boulder Edward C. Stone Jr., California Institute of Technology Karl K. Turekian, Yale University, New Haven George W. Wetherill, Carnegie Institution of Washington Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM Corporation, White Plains, New York Staff Raphael G. Kasper, Executive Director Lawrence E. McCray, Associate Executive Director v
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Preface The Mono Basin of California, with Mono Lake at its center, is an area of unique aesthetic appeal and scientific interest. As such, it has been designated as a national scenic area. It is also an important water resource, with basin water being diverted for use in Los Angeles. If water levels in Mono Lake were to change--whether as a result of this diversion, natural phenomena, or a combina- tion of these factors--a variety of complex changes in the Mono Basin ecosystem could occur. Concerns about these effects led to a directive by Congress for review of the pertinent scientific information. The National Research Council formed the Mono Basin Ecosystem Study Committee to carry out this task, and funding for the study was pro- vided by the U.S. Forest Service. The congressional directive, found in Public Law 98-425 and House Report 98-291, notes that the study is intended to include, but not be limited to: ( 1 ) an inventory of all terrestrial and aquatic spe- cies, indicating their population dynamics, historic and current population levels, and probable trends as to future numbers and welfare; (2) the critical water level of Mono Lake needed to support current wildlife populations; (3) the hydrology of Mono Lake, including ground water inflow, evaporation and fresh water spring inflow, · — V11
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· · ~ V111 Preface and water balance at the critical water level, showing the estimated evaporation and projected inflows; (4) the estimated wildlife populations using Mono Lake which would be supported at the estimated water levels that would occur as the City of Los Angeles continues to exercise its water rights as such rights have been granted or may be modified under the laws of the State of California (5) the significance of any changes from current wildlife populations to those as may be estimated based upon such study and referenced to the populations of such wildlife in other areas. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service requested that the committee consider issues related to the management of the scenic area, including the effects of fire and grazing on the tufa formations, effects of lake levels on air quality, and an inventory of vegetation types in the basin. The com- . . ~ the ecosystem, ettects ot Increased pUnllC access on mittee was specifically asked not to address the soc~oeco- nomic issues of water rights or the details of the manage- ment of the water. In carrying out its tasks the committee consulted with state, federal, and local agencies and with scientists con- ducting research in the Mono Basin. A small number of scientists have studied the Mono Basin, and the committee relied heavily on their work. Much of the available infor- mation appears in the form of draft manuscripts and un- published reports that have not been subjected to peer review. The committee has independently evaluated much of the data some cases, form. The ~ report. Because of these limitations and because of the commit- tee's awareness that many people consider the Mono Basin area to be almost sacred while others consider it to be a source of exploitable resources, the committee approached its task with caution but an enthusiastic willingness to do the job properly. This report is the product of many days of doing research, exchanging ideas, deliberating, and writing. Of this literature and cautiously accepted many reported in these unpublished documents. In crucial information was not available in any limitations of the data are discussed throughout the
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Preface 1X Mono Lake and the surrounding national scenic area managed by the U.S. Forest Service have become the sub- ject of a widespread controversy. Throughout the country, but especially in the West, there are bumper stickers ad- vocating "Save Mono Lake." Conservation groups continue to use legal pathways in their attempts to preserve scenic and ecological components of the basin in the face of per- ceived threats to its resources. This controversy fueled the need to know more anout tne integration of the hydro- logical, physical, chemical, and biological components of the basin. If we, the public, are going to continue to make demands on the resources of the Mono Basin, we need to know the risks we are taking with the ecological relation- shins in the basin ecosystem that have been established __7 ~ This report on the Mono Basin is thus an ecological risk assessment study of a . . . — over centuries. if not millennia complex natural ecosystem. The aesthetic appeal and scientific interest of the Mono Basin derive from its unique collection of natural wonders. Few places record the history of Pleistocene glacial ad- vances and retreats more clearly than do the numerous and massive moraines of the Mono Basin. The basin also con- tains an array of readily observable volcanic features that are as dynamic as any on earth. Here occur deep stacks of basaltic flows, massive rhyolitic domes, recent cinder cones, pumice blocks that float, and numerous and wide- spread ashfalls spanning over 700,000 years in age. The basin straddles the transition between two very dissimilar physiographic provinces, the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin Desert. Elevations range from 6,380 ft (the current elevation of Mono Lake) to over 13,000 ft. The chances in climate. soils and biota over this elevation —. . — ~ J _ , , range are equivalent to those found in traveling over %~ - . thousands of miles of latitude. Mono Lake lies immediately east of the high Sierra. The lake thus receives very little rainfall or snowfall, while the high elevations of the Sierra collect large amounts of snow, which melts to supply water to the lower basin. The basin has cultural as well as scientific interest. The indigenous Owens Valley Piutes utilized the natural resources of the region. They were a sophisticated
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x Preface seed-collecting society. Their seed-milling sites can still be found atop granite boulders along the valley and in the foothills. The beauty of the Mono Basin is impressive, and the members of the committee were not untouched by its aesthetic appeal. They realized, however, that this report could not reflect any personal feelings about the lake or basin but must present the most unbiased scientific analysis possible. For a short period during our final meeting, I asked committee members to discuss "what the lake means to them." Their comments demonstrate that they are as observant about aesthetic features as they are about scien- tific features. I share the following representative com- ments with the reader as somewhat of a counterpoint to the scientific discussion in the report itself: the lake set- ting, with the natural wonders of both desert and moun- tains close at hand, is particularly impressive; the lake has a magical quality--it is not just another big, blue lake; the lake in its present configuration appears to be balanced with its setting, the tufa towers with their reflection in the lake are aesthetically more pleasing than tufa towers on land--the lake-tufa tower relationship characterizes Mono Lake; the interplay of tufa towers and birds repre- sents the character of the lake; and some amount of playa (exposed lake bed) gives a definition to the lake and is pleasing; the larger islands, as discrete islands, are part of the aesthetic balance of the lake; the current numbers and diversity of birds symbolize the biological uniqueness of the basin. This report can be used for many purposes. It can be a guide to resource managers or a demonstration to natural- ists and ecology classes of the integration of complex in- teracting factors in a defined but broad ecosystem. As a case study in ecological risk assessment, it might be used in college classes and seminars or as an example of a sys- tematic assessment of the effects of water diversions on similar systems. The report stresses the need to continue monitoring the ecosystem to test predictions as the basin continues to be perturbed. If critical conditions are approached that may trigger the catastrophic ecosystem responses identified in
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Preface X1 the report, studies should be initiated to test the accuracy of the predictions. This report, although it has its limitations, contains a wealth of information about the Mono Basin ecosystem. The committee hopes it will be a major contribution to our understanding of the basin and perhaps other - hypersaline, closed-basin lakes. I hope that it proves useful to those concerned about the future of Mono Lake and the Mono Basin. Duncan T. Fatten Chairman, Mono Basin Ecosystem Study Committee
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Acknowledgments There are many organizations and individuals the Mono Basin Ecosystem Study Committee wishes to acknowledge. John Roupp, Nancy Upham, Dick Warren, Carl Westrate (now retired), and others with the U.S. Forest Service have riven us information and support. Mel Blevins, Chris Foley, Eldon Horst, LeVal Lund, Andy Pollack, and other personnel from the Los Angeles Depart- ment of Water and Power have been cooperative throughout this study. They have shared LADWP data with committee members to facilitate our understanding of ecosystem proc- esses at Mono Lake. Martha Davis, David Gaines, and others from the Mono Lake Committee were also helpful throughout the study. Dan Botkin and the California Fish and Game Mono Lake Blue Ribbon Panel expanded our in- formation base through sharing of data. Individual researchers that have helped the committee through inter- pretation or sharing of information include: Scott Stine (paleogeomorphology); Peter Vorster (hydrology); Joe Jehl and David Winkler (ornithology); Gayle Dana, David Herbst, and Robert Jellison (aquatic biology); Kerry Sieh (geology); and Ron Oremland and Ronald Spencer (geochemistry). Many indivicluals reviewed the report, and to them we are grateful for their suggestions on how it could be improved. The Mono Basin Ecosystem Study Committee is thankful for the herculean efforts of so many of the staff members of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology (BEST). Ruth DeFries, staff officer, has supported, prodded, and cajoled us in order to produce this report. continuously ,, Chris Foley · · — x~
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XIV Acknowledgments Her patience and professionalism have been appreciated by all committee members. David Policansky, staff officer, has been our conscience, keeping us honest and on the point. Without administrative secretary Tracy Brandt, all deadlines would have fallen by the wayside. She has brought to- gether many loose ends and helped fill the staffing gaps whenever called upon. Roseanne Price, of the editorial staff of the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources, handled editing of the drafts and assisted with production. Thanks also go to Myron Uman, previous director of the Environmental Studies Board, who intro- duced us to our task, and to Devra Davis, staff director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, who through her interest gave us encouragement at some dif- ficult times. The committee is indebted to all of these people and organizations, and to the U.S. Forest Service for providing the financial support and the National Research Council for providing the opportunity to participate in this study.
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Contents EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1 INTRODUCTION Climatology, physiography, and geology of the Mono Basin, 12 Prehistoric and historic fluctuations in lake level, 15 Comparison of Mono Lake with other saline lakes, 16 HYDROLOGY OF THE MONO BASIN Introduction, 22 Hydrometeorology, 22 Hydrologic processes, 27 Description and assessment of water balance models, 39 Modeling of Mono Lake levels and salinity, 44 PHYSICAL AND CHEMICAL LAKE SYSTEM Introduction, 50 Physical system, 51 Chemical system, 56 4 BIOLOGICAL SYSTEM OF MONO LAKE Introduction, 69 Ecological aspects of aquatic pelagic and littoral organisms, 70 Physiological aspects and salinity tolerances of aquatic pelagic and littoral organisms, 77 Bird populations: Secondary consumers, 92 xv 8 22 50 69
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SHORELINE AND UPLAND SYSTEMS Introduction, 121 Physical components, 121 Biotic components, 139 Land-air interface, 166 Land-water interface, 170 6 ECOLOGICAL RESPONSES TO CHANGES IN LAKE LEVEL Introduction, 179 Responses of ecosystem components to changes in lake level, 183 Summary and conclusions, 206 APPENDIXES A Birds of the Mono Basin and their ecological characteristics, 215 B Mammals of the Mono Basin and their ecological characteristics, 226 C Bibliography, 230 INDEX Contents 121 179 213 259