Lake Chapala -An Ecological Update- by Dale Palfrey
Lake Chapala has undergone a dramatic transformation since the start of the new millennium. In June, 2002 the lake stood at the lowest level recorded since 1955, holding less than 15 per cent of its full water storage capacity. The dire situation prompted a number of environmental activists to warn of Chapala's imminent demise, a prediction that fortunately proved dead wrong. Abundant precipitation during the 2003 and 2004 rainy seasons has brought the lake back to around 75% full capacity and the highest level registered since the early 1980's.
The decade-long crisis effectively spurred government agencies, politicians and diverse citizen groups into paying much closer attention to Mexico's largest lake.
In 2001 SEMARNAT, the federal government's environmental protection agency,launched a comprehensive plan for the Lerma-Chapala Basin that lays out short and long term goals for natural resource conservation and sustainable development in the region. The program not only targets restoring Lake Chapala to optimum conditions, but also aims to resolve general problems of over-exploitation, waste and contamination of water resources, massive deforestation and soil degradation, taking into account related issues such as poverty and migration in rural communities, population growth in urban areas, industrial development and overall economic growth.
Some key actions are already under way as this book goes to press. With 30 million pesos budgeted for 2004, state and federal agencies have implemented a project to reduce and control the recurrent problem of water hyacinth infestation in Lake Chapala. Additional funding is going into construction and upgrades for sewage treatment facilities serving lake shore communities. A new network of cutting-edge instruments installed along the Lerma River to monitor water and weather conditions will give government, scientists and the general public greater access to critical information. And, after several years of strident negotiations, water users in the five Lerma-Chapala Basin states appear to have finally hammered out terms for a new and more equitable water distribution pact.
In 2002 Lake Chapala was incorporated into the Living Lakes organization, an international network dedicated to preserving lakes and wetlands that operates under the auspices of the Global Nature Fund. Membership should translate into greater worldwide attention on Chapala, corporate funding for specific projects and permanent pressure on Mexican authorities to keep lake conservation high up on the nation's environmental agenda.
Internet resources for more information on Lake Chapala: