Lake Chapala – Verdict of The Court of the Latin American Water Tribunal – October 2018

Lake Chapala

The following is the English text of the Court of the Latin American Water Tribunal: This transcript  on the outcomes of Latin American Water Council Court Hearings in October 2018 were provided to the me by Gabriel Vazquez-Sanchez – the General Director of AIPROMADES – the Intermunicipal Association for the Protection of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Lake Chapala.  



After reading the below – You may want to read my investigative journalism series overview on this subject HERE:


XI Public Hearing

Latin American Water Tribunal TLA

Cases on Water Controversies in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina

Guadalajara, MX – 22- October 26, 2018

Case: Possible violation of the human right to water, sanitation and a healthy environment, on the Chapala riverbank, Jalisco.

Contradictory actor:

Indigenous Peoples Coca from San Pedro Itzicán and Mezcala de la Asunción, municipality of Poncitlán, Jalisco, Mexico; María Luisa Baltazar González, Jaime González González and Darío Loza Baltazar, from the community of San Pedro Itzicán, through their representative before this Court, Master Agustín Verduzco Espinosa.

In opposition to: Mexican Federal State:

The Federal Executive, represented by Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto; the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT); the National Water Commission; the Lerma Santiago Pacífico Basin Agency; the Government of the State of Jalisco; the General Directorate of the State Water Commission of the State of Jalisco; the Secretary of Health of the State of Jalisco; the Municipal Presidency of Poncitlán.

Purpose of the Contradictory: The breach by the Mexican State of the obligations established in international human rights treaties and in national legislation, regarding the guarantee, respect and protection of our human rights to water and sanitation, to health, to the healthy environment, to the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as the rights of children.


  1. The Lerma river basin is one of the most polluted in the country due to the high concentration of industrial, agroindustrial and agricultural activities and urban population centers that discharge their waste to the river with no or minimal treatment and with lax environmental regulations that contribute to affect the quality of surface and underground water.

The Lerma River from its source is highly contaminated by industrial discharges from the Toluca Valley, and later it is contaminated by the waste from the Salamanca Refinery and other industries, agroindustries and pig farms. To this are added the urban and agricultural discharges existing throughout its course, which pollute the riverbed and aquifer. It is the main tributary of Lake Chapala, which in turn is the largest lentic body in the country and the main source of surface water supply in the metropolitan area of Guadalajara (through a transfer).

According to the Water Information System, during the year 2017, most of the monitoring stations located on the Lerma River (especially from La Piedad, Michoacán, until its outlet at Lake Chapala) showed concentrations of Chemical Oxygen Demand that They classified the river as “contaminated”; In addition, according to the concentrations that were detected from Fecal Coliforms, the Lerma River was heavily polluted. “

Other scientific studies conducted by local universities (such as the University of Guadalajara and ITESO) and foreign universities show the existence of heavy metals and agrochemicals in Lake Chapala and in some fish species. The presence of contaminants is also observed in blood samples in children and adults, as well as in the breast milk of women living in the vicinity of the lake.

2. The indigenous communities of Mezcala de la Asunción and San Pedro Itzicán are located geographically on the north-eastern margin of the lake; they are descendant communities of the Coca People that have lived in that territory since pre-Hispanic times. The inhabitants of both towns point out that in the 1950s and 1960s, the water of Chapala Lake was clean and could be taken without fear. In the lake there was an abundance of fish and the population was engaged in fishing to meet their needs for food, as well as for the sale of a variety of species (such as whitefish and charal). Currently, the communities of Mezcala de la Asunción and San Pedro Itzicán are suffering from important health problems, specifically related to outbreaks of kidney disease, brain damage, cancer and malformations that especially affect children and young people in the region.

This situation may be associated with the direct consumption of water from the lake or nearby wells, as well as thermal water sources that do not receive special treatment.

  1. The public health problem is serious, however, there are no official accurate data on the factors that lead to predisposition or that enhance the development of diseases. In addition, communities do not have adequate health services to efficiently treat this type of disease. It is also a problem of family economy and quality of life, because, to receive treatment, it is necessary that the patient and in most cases, a companion, move to the city of Guadalajara, since they do not count with the necessary equipment in their localities to carry out the daily dialysis or hemodialysis.
  2. In the community of Mezcala de la Asunción there is a registry of 11 renal patients, between children and adults, and 23 deaths have been registered due to renal failure. In San Pedro Itzicán, there is the highest rate in the world of kidney patients, according to the United States Renal Data System. In addition to kidney failure, in the population there are brain disorders, malformations, hearing and motor problems and cancer cases, which although they can be caused by various factors, it can not be ruled out that water is not a vector with a considerable incidence in this problematic
  3. According to the head of the Nephrology Service of the Civil Hospital of Guadalajara Fray Antonio Alcalde, it was found that there are at least 600 cases of kidney failure detected in Poncitlán (where Mezcala and San Pedro are located), and in many cases of these cases there is an advanced damage; in 2017, 35 patients were on replacement therapy, that is, on hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis, while others had already received a transplant.
  4. At the hearing, Mr. Jorge Malagón Díaz, general director of the Lerma-Santiago-Pacífico Basin Organization, was presented by the SEMARNAT to appear before the Court, who declared that this is one of the most complicated watersheds in the country because It travels through nine states and on its way collects all types of pollutants resulting from human activity.

He also stated that there have been multiple actions to combat pollution, but all of them “have fallen short”, despite the monitoring carried out by more than 100 hydrometric, climatological and water quality stations. He mentioned that there are 33 water quality monitoring stations in Lake Chapala and that construction of a new water system for the Agua Caliente community has recently been completed, and the construction of the San Pedro Itzicán well is nearing completion.

The number of treatment plants that must be built or rehabilitated is still to be determined. However, although it declared that the water of the lake is “apt for its purification”, the populations of the north margin of the lake will be equipped with wells to stop consuming water from the lake. A specific question from the jury acknowledged that there are specific points where the discharges of industrial pollutants exceed what is allowed by the current regulations, as is the case of Pemex in Salamanca, Guanajuato, but in these cases the corresponding fines are applied.


  1. The Latin American Water Tribunal adheres to international jurisprudence in the universal recognition of the human rights to Water and the Healthy Environment, as fundamental human rights, whose full exercise must be protected by the States (III Audiencia TLA, Ciudad de Mexico 2006).
  2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes in Article 22 that: “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security, and to obtain, through national effort and international cooperation, given the organization’s and the resources of each State, the satisfaction of economic, social and cultural rights, indispensable to their dignity and to the free development of their personality. “, and in Article 28:” Everyone has the right to establish a social order and international in which the rights and freedoms proclaimed in this Declaration are fully effective. “
  3. Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that in order to protect the environment, States should widely apply the precautionary approach according to their capabilities. When there is a danger of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of absolute scientific certainty should not be used as a reason to postpone the adoption of cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
  4. As a social right, the right to water should not be exercised to the detriment of those who are closest to the source of litigation (Audiencia, Guadalajara, 2007).
  5. Water in the indigenous cosmogony as a preponderant element, of a holistic nature, transcends material and utilitarian preconceptions that prevail in the productive means over it. Therefore, it must be evaluated in conflicts as a fundamental element of the identity of indigenous peoples (Audiencia, Antigua Guatemala, 2008).
  6. ILO Convention No. 169, entitled the Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, recalls “the particular contribution of indigenous and tribal peoples to cultural diversity, to the social and ecological harmony of humanity and to cooperation and understanding international “, in particular its articles 3,5,6,7.
  7. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is confirmed by ILO Convention 169, mainly in its articles 23 and 29.
  8. The Mexican legal framework contemplates the integral management of the country’s water resources, which is not only an obligation of the State but also a right for the people. Integrated water management must recognize that all Mexicans have access to “an adequate environment for their development and well-being” (Article 4 of the Constitution).
  9. The Constitution of the United Mexican States, in particular article 27, provides that the State must “impose on private property the modalities that dictate the public interest.” It also imposes on the State the obligation to regulate, for social benefit, the use of natural elements susceptible of appropriation to distribute public wealth equitably, to take care of its conservation, achieve the balanced development of the country and improve the living conditions of the population. It is clear from this article that the regulation of the use of water should be oriented towards social benefit.

In view of the foregoing facts and considerations, the Jury of the Latin American Water Tribunal


  1. That the Mexican State, by promoting an urban-industrial and agro-productive extractive model that favors private interest over the public, has led to the deterioration of the quality and quantity of water in rivers, bodies of water and aquifers, with serious impacts on human health, on the production of food and in the conservation of ecosystems. As a consequence, it has unfulfilled with its obligations to respect, guarantee and protect the rights humans to water and sanitation, to health, to food, to housing and environment and, above all, has affected the most vulnerable social groups as are the indigenous and peasant peoples.


  1. That the Mexican State comply with its obligations to respect, protect and guarantee the human rights to water, sanitation, housing, feeding, the environment and the health of the inhabitants of Lake Chapala, and in particular, of the Cocas communities of Mezcala de la Asunción and of San Pedro Itzicán of the Municipality of Poncitlán, Jalisco.2. That the Mexican State apply and update the quality environmental standards of drinking water, as well as the rules concerning general conditions and particular discharge of water of industrial, agroindustrial and mining origin, to comply with international standards in order to guarantee the preservation of surface and ground water quality and the health of ecosystems and the population in general.
  2. That the Mexican State, in its three levels of government -federal, state and municipal-, implement a program of integral sanitation of the basin Lerma-Chapala-Santiago-Pacífico with an emphasis on Lake Chapala, in a that the ecosystems of the basin and the lake continue to be degraded and that This will safeguard the health of communities and the rights of generations future to enjoy a healthy environment.
  3. That the federal and state health authorities will prepare an epidemiological study that analyzes the specific health damages generated by the use of water and other agents in all the communities surrounding the Lake of Chapala
  4. That the Mexican State -in its three levels of government- develop a plan for support to communities affected by water pollution (such as Mezcala de la Asunción and San Pedro Itzicán), articulated and agreed with the people directly affected, to specify the integral repair of the damage.
  5. That the Government of the State of Jalisco and the State Secretariat of Health implement extraordinary measures to make more efficient and less expensive specialized medical care for the patients of these communities la custrine
  6. That the Secretary of Health of the State comply fully and immediately with Recommendation 8/2018 of the State Human Rights Commission of Jalisco related to this problem.
  7. That the Federal Executive Power issue, as an urgent precautionary measure, the implementation of actions so that the new deep well of the community of San Pedro Itzicán and the water treatment plant work in optimal conditions, and the hydro-sanitary network is built in the area of the town that still it does not have it, in order to stop the consumption of contaminated water.


This Court will adopt follow-up and monitoring measures with the objective of ensuring compliance with the recommendations of this verdict, if they are not complied with.

In the D2 Auditorium of the ITESO, Jesuit University of Guadalajara, and the Court Hearings of the Latin American Water Court were held during the week of October 22 to 26, 2018, and once the declarations, proofs, communications from the parties, the Jury of the Latin American Water Court issues its decision in the case.

You may begin by reading my investigative journalism series on this subject HERE:

Another Link to this proceeding is HERE:


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