The tranquil waters of Lake Titicaca on the border between Bolivia and Peru were believed to be the birthplace of the human race by the ancient Incans. At 3,100 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level, is a popular tourist attraction and World Heritage.
Population growth and the expansion of unregulated mining activity have increasingly contaminated the 8,300-square-kilometer (3,200-square-mile) lake. But as the population around the lake has expanded over the last 30 years, so has the amount of human and industrial waste – and there are growing calls for the tide of pollution to be stemmed.
A 2011 United Nations review reported ‘alarming’ concentrations of cadmium, arsenic, and lead in parts of the lake. Also, Lake Titicaca was declared ”Threatened Lake of the Year 2012″ by the organizations Global Nature Fund (Germany) and Living Lake (USA).
Every year when the rainy season comes and the rivers near his fields oversteps its boundaries, it brings with it a tide of garbage. In this pasture we can find every kind of garbage. Plastic bottles, cosmetics, radios, television sets, dolls, basketballs, volleyballs, sandals and clothes.
The rapidly growing city of El Alto, Bolivia, is home to more than 1 million people, mostly low-income Aymara Indians from the countryside who migrate, seeking employment and education. As unplanned neighborhoods spread outward, the largest city in the Titicaca watershed struggles to provide basic services.
According to experts, more than a million liters of contaminated water per second, entering Lake Titicaca, come mostly from mining, industry and hospitals.
Despite all the pollutants El Alto sends toward Lake Titicaca, it is not the only source of contamination. Rivers winding toward the lake pass smaller towns that contribute human and industrial waste, and some gold mining operations in Peru use a smelting process which releases mercury into the water.
Livestock grazing along the shore loads the lake with organic waste, as well. This can fuel explosive aquatic plant growth, sucking up oxygen and cutting off sunlight other plants and animals need to survive.
In the inner bay of Puno (Perú), there is Lemna (Lemna is a genus of free-floating aquatic plants in the Araceae duckweed family). They cover the entire surface of the water due to high levels of contamination from phosphates and nitrates. This plant reproduces very quickly, further complicating eradication.
The existence of this plant is causing the death of many fish and other organisms in the lake, because covering the surface of the lake prevents proper oxygenation of the water and also produces an unpleasant smell. Also leaving a dark stain choking the lake.
Recently, residents of the district of Coata in the province of Puno protested the lack of government action regarding the current contamination of a part of Lake Titicaca in their region.
The start of work to remediate mining pollution was recently announced by government agencies. This work would start in the Puno district of Crucero, through which the river
Ramis passes, one of the main tributaries of Titicaca, and where elevated levels of contamination from mining have been detected.
The Bolivian side has also reported that they “anticipate the construction of sanitary and storm sewers in the towns of Copacabana and Gauqui, plus a landfill in Desaguadero, to keep this waste from going into Titicaca.
However, the concerned citizens of the area don’t just accuse, they also protest and use any means at their disposal to raise awareness about levels of contamination of Lake Titicaca, while the governments of Bolivia and Peru have shown few advances in his recovery.
Gustavo Carrasquel | ANCA24