“By the time that the signs of decline are clear enough to convince everybody, it may be too late to save the species or habitat.” – Jared Diamond
About The Authors:
Bill Dahl is an investigative journalist who recently completed 4 weeks in the Guadalajara/Chapala region of central Mexico examining the public health and environmental hazards that inhabit the area. He has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice. He resides in the U.S.
Gabriel Vazquz Sanchez is the General Director of AIROMADES – the Intermunicipal Association for the Protection of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Lake Chapala. He holds a Masters degree in Conservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage and Master’s in Integrated Management of Hydrological Basins. He has been Director of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve of Guanajuato and of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve of Querétaro. He is based in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
Drip, Drip, Drip…
Pulitzer Prize winning author and scientist Jared Diamond has written; “societies fail to perceive a problem is when it takes the form of a slow trend concealed by wide up-and-down fluctuations.” Perhaps that’s why our planet’s annual seasonal fluctuations obscure the reality of climate change. Furthermore, human perception is wired to recognize the apparent. When it comes to water quality, associated public health maladies, on ongoing ecosystem degradation – these are “slow trends concealed” from our everyday observations because they are less than apparent to us. As Diamond writes in another of his works; “By the time that the signs of decline are clear enough to convince everybody, it may be too late to save the species or habitat.” With water, the decline in its quality and supply, the emergence of related public health maladies, economic decline, the degradation of surrounding ecosystems, and the loss of species, some endemic, contained therein. The destruction of essential water resources that support healthy human habitation, and the associated, strategically important economies is a slow trend; a drip, drip, drip process.
Water resources worldwide are under tremendous stress. The availability of freshwater is anticipated to become the primary risk associated with economic growth, political stability, and human survival in the near term. Mexico is no exception to this reality.
The Lerma-Lake Chapala-Santiago basin in Mexico provides millions of people and associated economic interests with the primary water resource they require. Its viability is currently under siege after decades upon decades of mismanagement and neglect. Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city and the 4 million + residents of the broader region are fundamentally sustained by this distinctly imperiled water resource. Guadalajara is considered the bright shining star of Mexico’s economic engine of the future. (Guadalajara has a geographic footprint and population equivalent to that of Madrid, the capital of Spain).How’s that going to turn out with no water in that engine?
According to the World Bank: “Water resources management is one of Mexico’s most urgent environmental and resource problems, and one that imposes heavy costs on the economy.”  This WB study also observes that the decreases in available water in Mexico have increased pollution accompanied by increased demand. The report goes on to point out: “Nevertheless, significant challenges remain, particularly in terms of improving water services and quality and defining the regulations required to implement the established legal and institutional framework. Over half of Mexican households still lack reliable and continuous water services. For most of the country, municipal effluents remain untreated and irrigation systems have rates of inefficiency that exceed 50 percent.”
Well, that particular World Bank study was 12 years ago. Yet, its conclusions remain valid, and require updating to verify the current extent and nature of the damage. In 2015, Mexico established The National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua aka CONAGUA). Its purpose is to be the administrative and technical advisory commission of Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). More specifically, CONAGUA administers Mexico’s waters, the nation’s hydrological apparatus, and performs associated social development activities. So what have been the substantive, meaningful, tangible, positive, sustainable results of studies, reports, meetings, conferences and commissions? Frankly, for the residents of Mexico…honestly?…nada. Actually, the water quality, environmental degradation and public health hazards have actually worsened.
The Lerma-Lake Chapala-Santiago basin is the most glaring example of the absence of meaningful and urgent Mexican Federal government intervention. Flows into the lake transport toxic sediments from the upper basin into the depths of the lake. Untreated sewage, run-off and wastewater are routinely discharged into the lake, scientifically verified presence of heavy metals in humans, fish, foods and flora are apparent, municipalities cannot afford the electricity required to operate sewage and wastewater treatment plants, the lake is infested by water hyacinths, and the incidence of Chronic Kidney disease remains the 2nd worst in the world, and in some locations around the lake, the incidence of CKD is 3-5 times greater than any other places on the planet. Need I say more?
What’s the problem? Like many countries, Mexico is struggling with population increases, industries requiring water, lack of adequately constructed and maintained sites for disposal of toxins, poor water quality assessment and delivery infrastructure, regulatory inefficiencies, and limitations on financial resources. Translation: The problem is multi-faceted. The required solution is multi-dimensional as well.
Hope or Hype?
Yet, there’s hope. On December 1, 2018 Andrés Manuel López Obrador aka AMLO was elected as the new President of Mexico. Accompanying his election was his pledge to clean up the environment (among other issues) and a renewed focus on restoring the water resources of his nation via a splashy, bold document entitled “NaturAMLO.”
After a major national election in almost any country, people are filled with hope, buoyed by all the hype filled promises that inflated the narrative of the election.
In his book, Collapse – How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed, Jared Diamond suggests that societies fail due to the cumulative effects of 4 basic choices; “failure to anticipate a problem (anticipation), failure to perceive it once it has arisen (perception), failure to attempt to solve it after it has been perceived (failure to act), and failure to succeed in attempts to solve it (failure to succeed).” Regarding water supply, water quality, the emergence of associated diseases, and the degradation of ecosystems Mexico, like many other countries, has succumbed to the failures in each of the stages identified by Diamond.
Yet, President AMLO has an immediate advantage over his predecessors. Guided by his NaturAMLO agenda, his choices will determine the future of the strategically essential waters of the Lake Chapala basin for the Mexican people, and his nation’s economic prowess. As the title of Diamond’s book indicates, Societies choose to fail or succeed. Will NaturAMLO be hype or will it embody the demonstrable leadership so boldly proclaimed by the new Mexican President by the immediate decisions and choices he makes – translating the hopes of the Mexican people into reality.
What might these decisions and choices look like?
A Pathway to Progress:
It took decades for the degradation of the Lerner-Chapala-Santiago basin to come about. It will also be a process to stop the deterioration and begin to restore this strategically essential resource for the Mexican people and the country of Mexico. What might this look like? Perhaps some of the following suggestions will be helpful in providing a phased framework within which this process can succeed.
1.The issuance of an emergency Executive Order by Mexican President AMLO designating the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin as a national NaturAMLO site.
2. The term NaturAMLO refers to both an Amazing Mexico Leadership Opportunity for Andrés Manuel López Obrador and embodies the concrete actions that declare the Amelioration Mandate for Lake Chapala’s Oversight.
3. By Mexican Presidential Executive Order, provide a budget and initial, emergency funding to complete the items identified herein as Immediate and Short Term objectives.
4. The immediate establishment of the an official, Federal, Mexican Government Agency – The NaturAMLO Agency – to evaluate, supervise, fund, coordinate, administrate and rehabilitate designated AMLO sites, as declared by the Mexican President. These sites shall be areas that contain known and scientifically reasonably suspected hazards to human health and require strategically important rehabilitation of environmental degradation for benefit and future of the country of Mexico.
5. Empower the Mexican President to authorize additional funding to designated NaturAMLO sites.
6. Immediately prohibit access to know sites of human health hazards – one example is Agual Caliente spring waters – and others as identified by the NaturAMLO staff in cooperation with designated experts in multi-disciplinary fields retained for ongoing scientific guidance.
7. Establish a board of public health and environmental experts empowered to advise the NaturAMLO staff as to priorities, methodological considerations for additional, essential studies, the acquisition and deployment of essential scientific environmental measurement and data acquisition devices, and serve to oversee the completion of scientific studies approved by NaturAMLO and the public dissemination of their results – and recommend further scientific remediation modalities when and wherever required.
8. Prohibit the spraying of pesticides on water hyacinths and other invasive plant species that inhabit the lake by any party.
9. Nationalize the operation of the municipal and Jalisco state operated sewage and wastewater treatment plants around Lake Chapala. The current municipal/state of Jalisco government entities do not that the funds and staff to operate and maintain these facilities effectively. Currently, the lakeside municipalities do not possess the financial resources required to pay for the electrical power required to operate and maintain them. Currently, it is essential to explore the use alternative sources of energy for their operation to reduce their operating costs.
10. Provide an immediate and ongoing supply of clean drinking water to the most at-risk communities – including Agual Caliente, Mezcala, San Pedro Itzicán, El Salto and Juanacatlán – as identified by Enrique Lira coordinator of the Socio-Environmental Forum in Guadalajara. Furthermore, Lakeside communities require a comprehensive intervention in their water resources, including sources, conduction, storage, purification and delivery infrastructure.
11. Establish a Chronic Kidney Disease diagnostic, monitoring and treatment center in Mezcala to provide medical services to affected populations – including the provision of current, state of the art medical devices required to treat a range of patients who suffer from various stages of kidney disease. According to Gabriel Vazquez Sanchez, Director of AIPROMADES in Guadalajara: “The most critical sites are in the territory of the municipality of Poncitlán. Placing this center in Mezcala would be strategically significant and would have a profound, positive social impact.”
12. Enact federal regulatory legislation specific to this AMLO site. This includes fines and legal consequences for those who breach the federally mandated and administered AMLO site protocols. Deploy AMLO site government overseers who have the official legal authority to monitor compliance with, and enforcement of, this legislation locally, on-site.
13. Deploy an additional 21 water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes aka liros)/invasive plant harvesting machines to Lake Chapala, fully staffed by trained operators. (There are only 2 harvesting machines at present) Furthermore, make certain that adequate and essential equipment is available to transport the harvested water hyacinths to a designated disposal site so that mounds of harvested water hyacinths do not accumulate on the lake shore, delayed by the essential disposal transportation to the designated disposal sites. There are also shredding machines owned and operated by the State Rural Development Secretary. However, shredding the water hyacinths is not a solution. The total extraction of the plant is required. Furthermore, It is also necessary to complete an analysis of the chemicals and heavy metals contained in the extracted plants, to ensure their safety level to re-manufacture them into compost or require their disposal at safe disposal sites.
14. The infestation of water hyacinths is not the only invasive species issue. Studies have identified 7 species of aquatic invasive plants. These invaders make root or that float, and their geometric growth alters the Lake conditions. Interestingly, the water hyacinth or lily, is no longer the most abundant species. It Pistia stratiotes, water lettuce, which appears to be more resistant to the increasing temperature. The seven invasive aquatic species in Lake Chapala identified by scientists include: Hydrocotyle ranunculoides, Berula erecta, Juncus effusus, Lemma gibba, Typha latifolia, Eichornia Crassipes and Pistia stratiotes. These infestations in Lake Chapala must be arrested due to their multi-dimensional negative impacts on the ecosystem. These deleterious effects include: blocking inflows and outflows, hampering recreation and fishing, reducing natural currents and water movement, reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen, and retarding the penetration of sunlight. These realities of water hyacinth infestation complicate the essential production of phytoplankton and the health and reproduction of resident fish species. They also provide superb breeding grounds for noxious organisms like mosquitoes that are known carriers of both the Dengue and Zika viruses. It has also been suggested that the hyacinths absorb heavy metals absorbed from Lake Chapala – attributed to industrial waste deposited in the Lerma River that flows into Lake Chapala.
15. Establish and distribute public information materials to fully inform the local populations of the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin about its designation as a NaturAMLO site, and provide incentives to them to cooperate and comply with this national initiative. Create and distribute this information to schools throughout the designated area, and adjacent communities.
16. Recovery of the meaningful RAMSAR Site designation for Lake Chapala is imperative. A management plan that allows for the conservation, nesting and refuge sites of the migratory birds is of international importance. Lake Chapala is a wildlife refuge for migratory waterfowl. The Lake provides the habitat for feeding, hibernation and breeding. The Lake is also home to numerous species of fish, including Menidia contrerasi, Menidia sphyraena, Ictalurus dugesii, and Menidia promelas. The habitat provides support for endangered species of birds including Botaurus lentiginosus and Rallus limicola, and mammals like the Mexican Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris nivalis) and the Collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), as well as Puma (Felis concolor) – which is also endangered.
II. Short Term: Completion Within 9 Months of Declaring the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin as a Federally Designated AMLO Site
Complete a review of the public health and environmental studies completed by the scientific communities over the past 20 years. Identify:
A. Scientific evidence that confirms both public health and environmental hazards that require immediate rehabilitation and eradication actions. Define the appropriate scientific remediation modalities, including the essential monitoring of ongoing scientific data collection moving toward the achievement of the public and environmental improvement benchmarks.
B. Identify the absence of essential scientific studies that must be completed to ascertain the multi-causal factors whose cumulative effects contribute to the current malady. Issue RFP’s, and evaluate the submitted RFP’s for these essential studies that have yet to be completed. Fund and initiate these scientific studies on or before one year from the date of designation of the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin as a NaturAMLO site.
C. Deploy the essential arrays of scientific measurement devices throughout Lake Chapala basin that are currently lacking. These include: resident water quality measurement devices, measurements devices where any treated effluent is discharged into the lake, examine and deploy water quality measurement arrays at current, known sites where storm water run-off is discharged routinely into the Lake, deploy air quality testing arrays around the Lake to ascertain the degree of evaporation of toxins (eg., pesticide residues) from lake waters that are the disbursed onto adjacent landscape and human populations, obtain core sediment samples at numerous locations within the lake body to determine the current identity of, location and concentrations of heavy metals. This process must include the analysis of sludge and sediments via topobathymetry that measure the cure, actual state of the soils. This has not been done for more than twenty years.
D. Initiate a comprehensive scientific examination of the use of pesticides and fertilizers throughout the the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin as a NaturAMLO region. (See Corazon de la Tierra, 2013)
E. Initiate a comprehensive scientific examination of the presence of toxins hazardous to human health in the fish species throughout the the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin.
F. Initiate a comprehensive scientific examination of the presence of toxins hazardous to human health in the agricultural products grown, harvested, sold and consumed throughout the the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin.
G. Feedback Loop – Ongoing Public and scientific disclosures as scientific results from assessment and remediation efforts are available for public consumption. At a minimum, progress reports for this NaturAMLO site should be issued every 6 months.
III. Long Term: Completion Within 48 Months of Declaraing the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago basin as a Federally Designated AMLO Site
The Lerma-Lake Chapala-Santiago basin is a unique national treasure of phenomenal beauty and strategic importance to Mexico as a nation. Yet, we know the region remains vulnerable to misuse, exploitation and ongoing threats to its survival. Degradation of the region and this ecosystem happened over the course of more than a century. Even with the resiliency of nature, discernible widespread improvements will also take time. The goals, objectives, measures of progress and other efforts identified in the NaturAMLO Plan will help ensure quantifiable annual outputs are in place that will lead to long-term restoration outcomes, even if such outcomes will not be immediately measurable on an ecosystem scale. Degradation is a process. So is the rehabilitation of the same.
A. Long term requirements for the restoration of any ecosystem evolve over time, as the results of essential scientific measurements dictate.
B. Consult with the international community to garner the experience of other comparable ecosystems that have been restored. Implement a “best practices” mechanism to inject successful approaches, interventions and technologies elsewhere into the Lerma-Lake Chapala-Santiago basin NaturAMLO initiative.
C. Dredging – Removal of heavy metals from Lake/River bottom sediments may be essential. Replacement soil may be required.
D. Longitudinal Studies are essential.
E. Annual Public Disclosures of the Previous 12 months Efforts, Results and Plans for the Upcoming year are required.
F. Review readily available comparable interventions. See: https://www.glri.us/sites/default/files/glri-action-plan-fy2010-fy2014-20100221-41pp.pdf and https://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/restoring-great-lakes as examples.
G. Based upon the urgency and strategic importance this situation demands, the initiation of the search for qualified, experienced, strategic partners – on an international scale – who can provide on-site scientific assistance, the provision of required measurement devices, and sources of ongoing funding – are essential.
In conclusion, national treasures require national stewardship, choices by leadership, and the treasury of a nation to maintain and restore them as enduring, legitimate displays of dedication to the public health of the citizenry, ecosystems, species, national pride and vision. May President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s NaturAMLO priority be treated as the Amazing Mexico Leadership Opportunity and be translated from hype into hope by virtue of the President’s declaration of the Lerma-Lake Chapala-Santiago basin with the honor of being nationally designated by virtue of his Amelioration Mandate for Lake Chapala’s Oversight.
Mexico’s Lake Chapala is the largest lake in the country, the 3rd largest in Latin America, and said to be the 2nd highest in the Americas, surpassed only by Lake Titicaca. It is the primary source of the water supply for the greater Guadalajara metropolitan area. It’s strategic importance to the nation of Mexico us unparalleled. It is the largest water source in Mexico. Millions of people, plant and animal species, and the viability of the nation’s economy depend upon the enactment of an aggressive, comprehensive, and coordinated strategy designed for its restoration.
Such is the current opportunity for Mexico. Without water resource rehabilitation, humanity will be sunk. Mexico is no exception. Renowned author and psychologist Steven Pinker has written: “The nature of reality does not dictate the way that reality is represented in people’s minds. ” Thus, interpretation depends upon “what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore.“
Will the new President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador focus on the implementation of a comprehensive strategy dedicated to the remediation of the public health and environmental hazards that currently inhabit the Lerma-Lake Chapala-Santiago basin? Or will he choose, as his predecessors have, to continue to ignore this urgent reality?
The choice is President Obrador’s.
Perhaps Mexico will lead the way…it’s an Amazing Mexico Leadership Opportunity for Mexico! .
The whole world is watching.
 Jared Diamond, is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s Cosmo Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize Honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by Rockefeller University. He has published more than six hundred articles and his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. This biographical excerpt of Jared Diamond is from: http://www.jareddiamond.org/Jared_Diamond/Welcome.html
 Diamond, Jared Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Penguin Books – Published by The Penguin Group New York, NY Copyright © 2005, 2011 by Jared Diamond, p. 425.
 Diamond, Jared The Third Chimpanzee – The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, Harper Perrenial New York, NY Copyright © 1992 by Jared Diamond, p. 337.
 Asad, Musa & Dinar , Ariel The Role of Water Policy in Mexico: Sustainability, Equity, and Economic Growth Considerations, Sustainable Development Working Paper No. 27, September 2006, The World Bank Latin America and the Caribbean Region Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Department, p. 5.
 Ibid: p. 5.
 Adler, David The War for Mexico’s Water, July 2015. Foreign Policy – https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/31/the-war-for-privatization-mexicos-water/
 Diamond, Jared Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Penguin Books – Published by The Penguin Group New York, NY Copyright © 2005, 2011 by Jared Diamond, p. 438.
 “Contaminación Agrícola y Erosión en la Cuenca del Lago Chapala,” 2013 Corazón de la Tierra.
 Steven Pinker is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Pinker is an experimental psychologist who conducts research in visual cognition, psycholinguistics, and social relations. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time and The Atlantic, and is the author of ten books. Excerpt from: https://stevenpinker.com/biocv
 Pinker, Steven The Stuff of Thought – Language As A Window Into Human Culture, Penguin Books Published by The Penguin Group, New York, NY Copyright (c) 2007 by Steven Pinker p. 4.
 Ibid p. 4.