Many U.S. Lakes Toxic Like Lake Atitlan In Guatemala

Football Field Sized Islands Of Trash Floating on Lake Atitlan From Agatha

Mayans still digging out, but have toxic cyanobacteria in lake to deal with after that!

By Greg Szymanski, JD
June 25, 2010

Many U.S. lakes are just like Lake Atitlan in Guatemala — filled with toxic cyanobacteria that causes serious illness while making fresh water undrinkable.

More than 35 States in the past have issued toxic green algae warnings and Oregon reported Thursday its first dog death of the year caused by drinking toxic fresh water from a lake in Elk County.

With that in mind, we have more in common with Guatemala than we’d like to admit.  The following story from Lake Atitlan should serve as warning as to what is also happening at alarming levels to the fresh water supply in the U.S.

LAKE ATITLAN, GUATEMALA — Local reports from several fishermen on Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalen Highlands said they noticed several “football field sized” islands of trash floating on the 30,000 acre volcanic lake.

The report came in this week from to Save Lake Atitlan Mission, a non profit relief group helping to fight poverty and pollution among indigenous people in Guatemala, highlighting the difficult struggle that lies ahead to keep the pristine lake from dying a slow death.

Raw Sewage Flowing Into Lake Atitlan

“Several friends of mine on the Lake reported they had to change course or lose their propellers from the football size islands of trash now floating on the lake,” said Dwight Poage, head of Mayan Families, another relief organization working in the Lake Atitlan region.

The huge citings of trash are the result of “storm run-off” from Tropical Storm Agatha that recently ripped through Guatemala, killing more than 275, leaving thousands homeless and leveling thousands of homes from torrential rain and mudlslides.

In the Lake Atitlan region, where 12 villages and 60,000 people surround the lake and another 150,000 live in the highlands, thousands of people lost their homes, more than 30 deaths have been reported and thousands of people are still living in shelters.

“It’s going to be a long haul to get things back to normal, ” said Poage, adding people will be rebuilding and talking about Agatha for years.

Poage said people are “extremely nervous” about the upcoming months since the storm came at the early part of the rainy season, leaving a big window of four months till dry and warm weather returns.

“A lot can happen in four months and since Agatha hit it has been raining more than usual leaving the ground very unstable,” added Poage, who also lost part of his house from mudslides caused by Agatha.

Besides Agatha, the Lake Atitlan region has serious pollution and poverty problems to contend with unfortunately taking a back seat to the immediate needs and devasatation from Agatha.

Satellite Image Of Lake Atitlan. Green Indicates High Levels of Cyanobacteria

Environmentalist from the region, Juan Skinner, said the added storm run-off and pollution from Agatha isn’t going to help the toxic cyanobacteria problem plaguing the lake.

“The toxic green algae is going to return when the warm weather comes and it could come back even worse than last year,” said Skinner, who live in the Lake Atitlan region.

He added no solutions have been put into place to correct raw sewage run off pouring into the lake daily as well as toxic run-off from the use of chemical fertilizers from the surrounding farmlands.

Once known as the most beautiful lake in the world, now Lake Atitlan, a 1000′ deep volcanic lake 130 square km in size, has been taken over by a massive bloom of cyanobacteria that entered its toxic phase ending the basic source of water for the thousands of lake shore inhabitants as well as halting the livelihood of indigenous fisherman. Authorities on lake pollution in a recent gathering at Istanbul listed Lake Atitlan as the world’s most threatened lake in 2009.

With haphazard garbage collection and no raw sewage treatment, the once crystal clear water is now undrinkable.

In October 2009, 85 per cent of the lake’s surface was covered with a green algae scum, cutting tourism by 75 per cent, according to local reports.

Although nothing has been really accomplished yet, the government recently announces a new waste water treatment plant was in the works, but construction has not started and will most likely be delayed even further due to Agatha.

Further, the government claims this is the first step in a plan to clean up the entire lake that will cost $350 million.

However, the question must be asked if they don’t have money to start even one plant, how can 14 more plants be built at a whopping cost of $350 million?

Critics of the government plan say it’s all just talk and the plants will never be built. They also say chemically based plants are a big mistake and are too costly and to expensive to maintain. What is needed, critics claim, are environmentally friendly solutions that can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost.

Lake Atitlan is third biggest fresh water lake in Guatemala and one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions, drawing an estimated $30 million a year according to 2002 figures. However, the region around Lake Atitlan is also one of the poorest in Gautemala with most people making a meager living from agriculture.

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