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Mono Lake kicks up fierce dust storm, rivaling Owens Dry Lake

September 24, 2010

Mono Lake on a deceptively calm evening. The lake is known for its fierce winds, which create dust storms to rival those of the Owens Lake. The problem was expected to diminish as the lake level rose, but the lake level has remained static for a few years, forcing policy makers to re-think how to approach the dust storms. Mammoth Times Photo/Wendilyn Grasseschi

When people think about dust storms in the Eastern Sierra, they usually think about the Owens Dry Lake dust storms down in Inyo County.

But Mono County’s got its own version and in some ways, it’s even worse.
The blue and aqua Mono Lake is ringed by miles of dusty shores, left behind when the water level dropped after the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power started diverting feeder creeks.

The dry shores full of loose pumice are known for their ferocious dust storms, producing “the worst incidents of air pollution in the country in intensity,” according to local air pollution control officials.

The problem is especially bad on the northeast side of the lake.
“These storms can exceed the federal standards by 100 times within a 24-hour period,” said Ted Schade, Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District director.

The problem was expected to go away or diminish once the lake reached its court-appointed level, but in the last several years, even with normal or above normal winters, the lake level has not increased, Schade said.

“We don’t know why this is occurring, but it is adding to the sense that we need to look at this again,” he said.

The problem has prompted Schade and other land managers such as the state and forest service and the City of Los Angeles to consider studying the storms anew, since the data being used now is more than 20 years old.

Although there are not that many people directly affected by the storms, land managers are required by law to make sure air quality stays within standards “wherever the public has access to,” Schade said.

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