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Environmental Issues Affecting Lake Chapala, Mexico

20.2N 103W

February 13th, 2012 Category: Lakes

Mexico - January 5th, 2012

Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. It lies in the municipalities of Chapala, Jocotepec, Poncitlán, and Jamay, in Jalisco, and in Venustiano Carranza and Cojumatlán de Régules, in Michoacán. The lake is located southeast of Guadalajara, Jalisco, which is visible here as a large grey expanse.

Lake Chapala is located at 1,524 metres (5000 feet) above sea level. Its approximate dimensions are 80 km (50 mi) from east to west and averages 12.5 km (7.8 miles) from north to south, and covers an approximate area of 1,100 km2 (420 sq mi). It is a shallow lake, with a mean depth of 4.5 metres (14.9 feet) and a maximum of 10.5 (34 feet).

Environmental issues affecting the lake include increased in water consumption for drinking, erosion from deforestation and pollution. The city Guadalajara, Jalisco, has relied on Lake Chapala as a principal source of water since the 1950s. Shortly after, a few consecutive years of poor rainfall dramatically decreased the water level of the Lake. The level rebounded until 1979, when Lake Chapala’s water level rapidly began decreasing due to increases in urban water consumption.

Erosion due to deforestation along the Lake as well as the Lerma River has led to increased sedimentation of the Lake, also contributing to loss of lake depth. The shrinking depth has also raised the Lake’s average temperature, resulting in increased evaporation.

Simultaneously, the waters of Lake Chapala are polluted by municipal, industrial and agricultural wastes, coming primarily from the Lerma River. The increased presence of nutrients from the pollution combined with the warmer water has been a boon to an invasive species of Water Hyacinth. The water hyacinth further exacerbates the problem of a shrinking lake depth through its own consumption of the water.

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