Storm Over Mono: The Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future

  • Cover of Storm Over Mono: The Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future

  If you think preserving natural resources is all about scientific data and arcane legal maneuvers, read Storm Over Mono. In his richly documented account of the battle to save Mono Lake, John Hart focuses on the people who mounted the successful campaign against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Most were ordinary mortals: "longhairs and shorthairs, locals and visitors, biologists, birders, a noted photographer or two." What distinguished them was their outrage over the loss of an entire ecosystem to a city 350 miles away and their determination to stop it.

Hart does not ignore the importance of science and legal expertise to the fight which ultimately restricted Los Angeles' use of Mono Lake water. But he spins 20 years of court cases and data collection into an inspiring story about people and their passion for a place twice as salty as the ocean.

Hart himself is as bewitched by the peculiar, unsettling beauty of the Mono Basin as the people he calls Monophiles. His descriptions - of ever- changing light, green algae mats, pale tufa towers and clouds of grebes - make the place itself one of the book's characters. If you haven't been there, reading Storm Over Mono makes you want to visit; if you have, you want to go again.

This is an unapologetically partisan book. Hart never questions that saving Mono Lake is a just and righteous cause. But he does not ignore the human frailties of its participants. David Gaines, the blunt founder of the Mono Lake Committee, was "no politician," Hart says, and his refusal to sugarcoat things could "go beyond frankness." Even the sainted Mono Lake Committee gets his occasional, gentle jab.

But the committee and its cast of supporting characters are the heroes of this Gulliver-like tale for immobilizing mighty Los Angeles with thousands of Lilliputian threads. Storm Over Mono awakens a sense of the power we all nurture in our own communities. It inspires us to get up and use it.

Jane Braxton Little writes from Plumas County, California.

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