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 iconic tufa formations is pictured on the south shore of the lake in Mono County, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

Editor’s noteThis Great Salt Lake Collaborative story is part of day three of our series, “At water’s edge: Searching for solutions at the Great Salt Lake’s sister lakes across the Great Basin.” The in-depth project features the work of multiple journalists from multiple Utah news organizations. Read additional stories and view photos, videos and interactive maps at https://greatsaltlakenews.org.

• Like the Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake is too salty for fish, which means brine shrimp thrive. But the lakes have different species of shrimp: Artemia franciscana 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 the algae plentiful. But with the onset of winter, the shrimp lay cysts. Those cysts hatch when 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.

One big difference between the species is that Mono Lake’s shrimp cysts sink, while the Great Salt Lake cysts float. Brine shrimp cyst harvesting has ballooned into a multimillion-dollar industry in Utah because 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 currently is 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 Power conducted an expensive remediation effort at the latter. And like Owens Lake, Mono Lake’s dust is a result of diversions from its tributary streams.

(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., on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022.

• Mono Lake, however, is blocked from having its water siphoned away entirely and becoming a dry salt flat like Owens Lake. That’s because advocates and environmental nonprofits successfully argued in court that California had a duty to protect natural resources like Mono Lake for the benefit of the public. Utah has different politics and the Great Salt Lake is a lot larger and a lot more complicated, with more cities, farmers and industries tapping its tributaries. It is unclear whether the same legal strategy would succeed in the Beehive State.

• Despite a state order mandating Mono Lake rise to 6,392 feet above sea level, it remains far short of that target — even after years of reduced water consumption by LADWP. Like Utah, L.A. faces pressure from population growth and aridification fueled by climate change. Officials there say Mono Lake’s targets need reconsideration as water supplies grow more uncertain.

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

• The Great Salt Lake and Mono Lake provide critical staging ground for millions of birds as they move on their migration path across the Western Hemisphere. One of those 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 periods. But when the water gets too low, it puts at risk the islands, habitat and food sources.

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