Lake Tahoe Treatment Techniques Could Save Guatemalan Lake From Deadly Algae

guatamala lake research photo

Photo by Ellen Levy

Lake Atitlan is nestled in the tropical highlands of Guatemala but even with such an exotic location and history of breath-taking beauty, the lake is earning awards not as "most desired retreat" but as the Global Nature Fund's "Threatened Lake of the Year." The water is contaminated with waste water and watershed runoff, spurring algae growth and the boom of bacterias like Escherichia coli and Giardia. So, a team of scientists from the University of Nevada, Reno, DRI, Arizona State University and University of California, Davis went on a two-week trip to see how they might lend a hand at discovering solutions for cleaning up the lake and protecting the people and animals that need it for survival. They were armed with 40 years of trial and error thanks to the work that has been done for the restoration of Lake Tahoe, a body of water with very similar attributes.Eliska Rejmankova, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy from U.C. Davis, got the project rolling to help train Guatemalan students to conserve what is considered one of the most beautiful highland tropical lakes in the world.

lake atitlan photo

Image via Wikipedia

Not only is it beautiful, but Lake Atitlan is also one of the deepest in Central America, with estimates as deep as 340 meters. It supports significant agriculture, including coffee and food crops, as well as a large amount of wildlife on which the indigenous peoples depend. So, it's failing health due to years of sewage and fertilizers flowing into the lake, is worrying.

Thankfully, it's similar to our somewhat more familiar Lake Tahoe in size and struggles with growing populations of people to support. Drawing on the experience from restoring Lake Tahoe, researchers feel they can help locals get a jump start on restoring Lake Atitlan.

Rejmankova states, "We want to work with local scientists to develop alternative strategies, based around the idea that the solution to the algae problem is to address the sources of nutrient loading into the lake, so water going into the lake will be as clean as possible."

The team took sampling equipment from Lake Tahoe and worked with scientists, engineers and students in Guatemala to set up a lab to sample the lake and its conditions. They also discussed processes for keeping the lake clean, using Tahoe's water treatment plants and controls for keeping sewage and contaminants at bay.

"The solutions for Atitlan may not mirror those at Tahoe, but we hope to use the knowledge we've gained from studying Lake Tahoe to help clean and protect Lake Atitlan," said one of the scientists from the American team.

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