MONO COUNTY, Calif. — While many describe saltwater lakes as dead because they don't support marine life, most now realize the Great Salt Lake is alive as it sustains life in America's driest region, the Great Basin.

Like the Great Salt Lake, another similar body of water was facing the same dire future until a creative effort saved it.

On a map, Mono Lake looks like a lumpy bagel. In person, it's an entrancing gem in the shadow of some of America's tallest mountains with Yosemite National Park right up the road.

"Just everything seems a little different. A little drier and smaller. But nonetheless, it's a beautiful area of the country," said visitor Denise Shermer.

That's one of many similarities between Mono Lake and the Great Salt Lake. Both are shadows of what they were as each serves as punctuation at the east and west ends of the Great Basin. Each in the shadow of mountains that provide life-sustaining water.

The Mono Lake Committee is a non-profit dedicated to preserving the lake. Like the Great Salt Lake, Mono teems with birds in the water and along the shores and islands; both critical to entire species.

While birds are suffering due to low lake levels in the Great Basin, they may be what saves Mono and the Great Salt Lake. The Audubon Society has advocated for the Great Basin's lakes for more than a generation.

"Here at Great Salt Lake and Mono Lake, you have, you know, 99% of the North American population of eared grebes that use these two lakes," said Marcelle Shoop with the Audubon Society.

Mono is tiny compared to the Great Salt Lake. In addition, it has tufas, spires that look like they're drawn by Dr. Seuss, but are limestone formed by the separation of minerals when subsurface fresh springs emerge into the alkaline lake.

The tufas can only grow underwater, so they are natural measuring sticks showing Mono is much lower than it was before Los Angeles claimed its water rights and extended its aqueduct to the lake's inlet of Lee Vining Creek.

"I can remember coming here and there'd be no water going over the dam. That's how it operated for decades." explained Geoff McQuilkin with the Mono Lake Committee.

Water entering the northernmost intake of the Los Angeles Aquaduct has a 419 mile trip to the big city which used to take its lions share. But when the water level dropped, a group of college students noticed and surveyed the lake's ecosystem; documenting the danger to brine shrimp, birds and people breathing dust, before suing for the lake's right to exist.

"Mono Lake was at the forefront of realizing that if we don't manage water well and give the environment and birds and wildlife and places that people like to recreate a seat at the table, you're not going to have a state that'll be where you want to live and you're going to have a lot of ecological problems," said McQuilkin.

The lawsuit brought by the newly-formed Mono Lake Committee and Audubon Society asked the courts to recognize water rights don't override the vital interests of the ecosystem and the people who have to live with the consequences of disappearing water. In 1983, the California Supreme Court said they were right, ruling that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had gone too far.

"So there is a voice for the environment, a seat at the table and figuring things out, because it's important," said McQuilkin. "But I think back then, they sort of figured like, well, you know, go somewhere else to fish or the birds will find somewhere else. And now we know there really aren't other somewhere elses."

Things are more complicated in Utah where instead of one entity, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Great Salt Lake's water is diverted by several, and there is far away city to blame as water is taken from the lake.

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