Hollywood PromotersTo Help Lake Atitlan

Hollywood Promoters To Help Lake Atitlan

By Greg Szymanski, JD
February 26, 2010

There is no time to waste in mounting a strong campaign to help restore to pristine condition Lake Atitlan in the Guatemala Highlands.

Considered one of the most beautiful volcanic lakes in the world, Hollywood promoters are now working on a Save the Atitlan Lake Worldwide Concert Tour to raise needed millions to help the impoverished Mayan people of the Guatemalan Highlands.

Hollywood intends to use the Mayan Calendar 2012 end of the word date to jump start public awareness.

One Sunset Strip promoter looking for worldwide talent said:

“If we save Lake Atitlan in the next two years maybe the world won’t end. That’s good reason to start opening up your pocket books, especially you Hollywood stars.”

“With the permission of the artists of course we are planning to use this following song as the theme to save the lake. See this you tube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc_7ZJdv1o0&feature=related

Dates and locations of the concerts have yet to be announced.

One local hotel owner summed up the need for immediate attention this way:

“My view since this started is precisely that this is a wonderful opportunity to prove to the world that, what is happening with our planet, can be fixed if we change the way we behave.

“Lake Atitlan is like the planet on a smaller scale with the same mix of problems, people and resources. This is a great world to show the world a lot of good can be done with a lot of hard work and caring for the environment.”

With the future of one of its major tourist attractions in question, the Guatemalan government has announced an ambitious multi-part plan to cut sources of phosphorous, one problem the lake is encountering.

It calls for the construction of 15 sewage-treatment plants, a government-led conversion to organic farming for 80% of farmers in the lake’s watershed during the next three years, and for educating residents and tourists about the environment.

The cost: about $350 million, a huge expenditure for an impoverished country.

“The problem has been accumulating for years but Guatemala has other expensive problems and, apparently, this was not a priority,” says Margaret Dix, a Universidad Del Valle scientist who has studied the lake since 1976. “It needs money, input and a commitment. I think it can be restored to a large extent in four or five years. But it will never be like it was 100 years ago.”

The following article by Mayra Beltrán de Daetzof the Latina Vista gives good background, scope of the problem and how it can be corrected, of course, with worldwide financial help, minimum government corruption and a grass roots local educational campaign.

Guatemala — Lake Atitlán, located in the Department of Sololá, has one of the most beautiful landscapes found anywhere in Guatemala. Its beauty has been compared with Switzerland’s lakes.

Along the margins of the lake, there are three imposing volcanos: Atitlán, Tolimán and San Pedro. The lake is located at 1,560 meters at sea level and is 18 km long. Its depth varies and at many points it is not known, but drilling has reached depths of more than 350 meters.

In reviewing the history of the scientific origin of the most beautiful “Lake of the World,” as Atitlán is called, there are two versions. One version says that the lake is an old dead crater. The other is that the sprouting volcanoes interrupted the course of three rivers coming from the north. When the rivers reunited, their waters created the lake. The lake does not have visible water drainage.

The lake is surrounded by 12 colorful little towns that are called the twelve apostles: Santa Catarina Palopó, San Antonio Palopó, San Lucas Tolimán, Santiago Atitlán, San Pedro the Lagoon, San Juan the Lagoon, San Pablo the Lagoon, San Marcos the Lagoon, Santa Cruz the Lagoon, Panajachel and others.

The Lake, located only two hours away from Guatemala City, takes longer to arrive at by bus. To get there, it’s necessary to cross very mountainous terrain and so travel is very slow. When arriving at the lake, the first town that you find is Panajachel. It is the place where all travelers vacationing in the region can find the hotels and chalets.

The meaning of Atitlán comes from Atit, the feminine word meaning Moon, and Ala, meaning masculine man. The first Spaniards, in the 16th Century, put the two words together and named the lake Atitlán.

While the scientific version of the origin of Atitlán leaves nothing to the imagination, a legend of how the lake was formed is more popular and romantic among Guatemaltecos. It is said there existed an impossible love between the Sun and the Moon and that throughout the eternal ages they have been forced to live separated by an evil spell.

While one commands the day, the other endures its dark sadness at night. They undergo the separation in silence with the unique hope of an eclipse, thus to be able to see one another. They say that the Moon’s lovesickness ended with a single sweet tear. The tear fell on the same side of the Earth as Guatemala and formed the lake of
I’m sharing these stories because it is a pity that this site of national pride with its tales of heavenly origins which has been the inspiration for so many painters, writers and singers is dying. It is dying from neglect, either from the residents of the area or from the government’s own disinterest.

The lake suffers with cyanobacterium contamination. It’s a bacteria that transformed the pristine waters of Atitlán into a stinky, greenish mess. The contamination was first discovered three years ago by biologists. Ever since then, the biologists tried to warn the government and local communities of the bacteria’s threat, but no one listened. So nowadays, the biologists refer to the case as “the history of an announced death.”

The popular theory is that the contamination stems from a variety of factors: the widespread use of inorganic fertilizers, the dirt blown into the lake from Hurricane Stan, the growth of the local population around the lake and the nonexistence of water treatment plants needed to cleanse the sewage coming from the chalets, hotels and local communities.

Finally, people are paying attention. Sectors of the civil society have had meetings to discuss the problems caused by the bacteria. The Atitlán Foundation, the mayors of the nearby towns, the government’s vice-minister of atmosphere, along with, nongovernmental organizations and biologists have met to discuss what can be done.

One of the recommendations is to educate the people who live near the lake on the dangers of the bacteria and that as long as it’s contaminated, the water is not safe to bathe in or drink.

As always, blame is being thrown around. Local municipalities are receiving most of the blame because they didn’t invest even ten percent in environmental health measures. And now because the consequences are almost irreversible, mandatory regulations regarding the use of water treatment plants are in place with strict penalties for those who disregard them.

Lake Atitlán’s bacteria infection obscures the lake’s pristine waters.

The problem at Atitlán has affected all Guatemaltecos. One of the best columnists of the country expressed it like this: “It sometimes seems that in Guatemala we have a vocation to destroy our own wealth.” She goes on to write that we use to be the country of the green, green, green forests but that we have transformed the land into a slope of desert paradise with brown scars of erosion. She ends by saying our “crystalline lakes, blue volcano mirrors and mountains” have been used like waste baskets and consequently there has formed chemical substances that create ugly rare, mult-colored masses that only inspire fear.

The government has vowed to have 40-50 percent of the lake clean in six weeks. They also said that the problem is not very serious.

The Todos por El Lago Association (All for the Lake Association) confirmed the government’s statement. The Association said that due to the rain and north wind the water has cooled off and that has caused the bacteria to sink; it can sink 40 meters deep. When temperatures are high, the bacteria rises to the surface, as happened this past year.

According to the latest studies, the bacteria was at its maximum coverage of 38 percent in November. On December 1, 2009, satellite images indicated the bacteria coverage had retreated to 27 percent.

The cyanobacterium feeds on phosphorus and agro-checmicals and will continue to thrive if water treatment plants are not put into use. For that reason, it’s been decided that it is imperative to start work on the water treatment plant for Panajachel, Sololá. It is the place where the San Francisco River contributes 75 percent of the phosphorus to the lake.

The government has also indicated that they are ready to work on several measures: a proposal of a $10 million project to construct water treatment plants; using chemicals to decontaminate the lake; and officially prohibiting the use of fertilizers and inorganic products, as well as, several other actions.

Mrs. Carmen Diez Orejas, Spain’s ambassador to Guatemala, announced that the Spanish Cabinet approved a donation of $29.5 million to the country designated for the management of the lake and its cleaning. Half of the money will be for projects in the neighborhood of Lake Atitlán.

The Ministry of Atmosphere and Natural Resources (MARN) has issued an urgent action plan to combat the impact of tourism, pollution and way of life of the residents of the lake’s basin area. The five points of the proposal include an agricultural aspect, environmental cleaning, infrastructure, social, tourism and institutional components. MARN estimates that it will take Q310 million to carry out this plan.

One can’t help but think what a pity it is for Lake Atitlán to be in such agony. The only hope is that the heart of the Moon isn’t made so sad again that she spills another tear. Because if so, the tear won’t make a difference since no reflection will be able to shine back from our pretty Lake Atitlán.

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