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Prehistoric lake is oasis of hope for California conservationists

by Staff Writers
Lee Vining, California (AFP) Oct 1, 2007
A prehistoric ecological marvel nestling high in the mountains of eastern California, Mono Lake has become an oasis of hope for conservationists battling drought in the state.

Home to an unusually diverse ecosystem, which includes nesting grounds for several species of marine birds, the vast 180 square kilometers (69 mile) prehistoric lake had been on course to disappear entirely until the 1990s.

For half a century the saltwater lake had slaked the thirst of the urban sprawl of several million that is Los Angeles and its surrounding area, with tributaries flowing into the lake diverted towards the city.

The result of decades of plundering Mono Lake's water supply were devastating. A key island in the center of the lake became a peninsula as water levels receded, exposing nesting grounds of gulls to hungry coyotes and forcing the birds to leave.

From 1942, when water from the tributaries leading to the lake first began to be diverted, to 1994, when the California State Water Resources Control Board issued an order to protect Mono Lake, water levels plunged by 14 meters from 6,418 feet (1,956 meters) to 6,373 feet (1,942 meters).

Today however, even in the face of a drought that has cost the western United States several streams and rives, Mono Lake has recovered to a level of around 6,383 feet (1,945 meters), according to Geoffrey McQuilkin the executive director of the Mono Lake Committee.

"The lake is definitely recovering now," McQuilkin said. "We're seeing lots of interesting things happen." The island which had become connected to the land is an island once more, McQuilkin said. "We've seen an increase in numbers of the birds that house there," he said.

McQuilkin said the successful efforts to preserve the lake and its eco-systems were attributable to the changing the water consumption habits of Los Angeles residents.

Prior to 1994, Los Angeles authorities were allowed to take some 90,000 acre-feet of water per year from Mono Lake's tributaries. Now they are only allowed to pump 16,000 acre-feet.

Angelenos, who use on average of 140 gallons of water every day, have been forced to adapt.

David Nahai president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power commission admitted that ensuring enough water to meet demand was a constant challenge. "I'd be lying if I said that this was an easy process," Nahai said. But today, I think we're quite proud of our achievements."

More efficient toilet flushes, shower heads, taps and washing machines had all helped to reduce consumption along with greater recycling of water used for watering, Nahai said.

Nevertheless, water supplies are always going to be problematic for a city which borders the vast desert interior of the western United States.

McQuilkin said although Los Angeles utility companies were now on the cutting edge when it came to developing methods of saving water used within the home, more had to be done to save water used outside.

More than half of the city's water consumption relates to the upkeep of the city's famously lush gardens and lawns, he said.

McQuilkin believes that the test of Los Angeles' efforts to reduce water consumption will come if the drought that has seen record-low rainfall across the region is prolonged for several years.

"The real question is what happens next year. Is it a one-year drought, or is this a two-year, or a five-year drought? If it's a multiple-year drought, they face difficult choices," he said.

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Cockroaches Are Morons In The Morning And Geniuses In The Evening
Nashville TN (SPX) Oct 01, 2007
In its ability to learn, the cockroach is a moron in the morning and a genius in the evening. Dramatic daily variations in the cockroach's learning ability were discovered by a new study performed by Vanderbilt University biologists and published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "This is the first example of an insect whose ability to learn is controlled by its biological clock," says Terry L. Page, the professor of biological sciences who directed the project. Undergraduate students Susan Decker and Shannon McConnaughey also participated in the study.

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