Monday, May 20, 2024

Viral video raises alarms about a disappearing Lake Pátzcuaro

Lake Pátzcuaro, a jewel of Mexico loved by locals and tourists alike, is facing an alarming decline in water level — a development driven home by a video posted on YouTube last week that went viral.

Titled “You can cross Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán without a boat,” the 25-minute video exposes vast amounts of dry, cracked lakebed where there used to be deep waters and lanchas taking tourists to the emblematic island of Janitzio.

That video and shorter versions on other social media sites have been viewed over 950,000 times combined.

The sharer of the initial video, “El Purepeche,” isn’t quite able to walk all the way to Janitzio. The tourist-friendly island, topped by an iconic, 40-meter statue of José María Morelos, is still surrounded by a channel of water.

But his point is made.

“Today, the most famous lake in Mexico is in a deep crisis caused mainly by the theft of water,” said Serapio Cruz Guzmán, president of the Janitzio Island Communal Council.

A clip of the video shared by the Michoacán news site Changoonga. (X)

The lake, on a volcanic plateau at 2,195 meters (7,200 feet) above sea level, has been ravaged by drought along with avocado and berry farmers who are said to be tapping into the lake to irrigate their crops.

A report last month on the Televisa news site N+ noted that Lake Pátzcuaro was at 50% of its normal level.

Overall, Michoacán is in dire straits: 97.3% of the state is facing severe drought conditions, with 63 municipalities at the most extreme levels, and state reservoirs were at only 59% of capacity as of last week.

Beyond drought, experts point to water theft as a major factor in Lake Pátzcuaro’s shrinkage. Determined to combat this, authorities this month began deploying dozens of uniformed civil guard officers equipped with drones and patrol vehicles to monitor the lake.

These efforts seem to be yielding some results, with initial reports suggesting the interception of 600,000 liters of illegal water extraction daily.

Additionally, the Interdisciplinary Committee in Defense of Lake Pátzcuaro was formed to bring together various stakeholders to tackle the crisis. Their focus includes addressing the root causes of the lake’s decline, such as deforestation (in order to plant more and more avocado trees) and inflowing pollution and wastewater.

Lake Pátzcuaro is not just a water source. It’s a cultural and ecological treasure that the surrounding communities, renowned for their Day of the Dead traditions, rely on for tourism and fishing. It is also an important habitat for various species of waterfowl and fish, and includes five islands.

Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro, Michoacán
The island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro is famous for its dramatic Day of the Dead celebrations. (File photo)

Nearby, Lake Cuitzeo, the second largest freshwater lake in Mexico, has lost a staggering 70% of its water, according to recent reports.

Concern over Lake Pátzcuaro is not a new phenomenon. In 2020, there was a drive by four lakeside municipalities — Pátzcuaro, Erongarícuaro, Quiroga and Tzintzuntzan — to create a comprehensive restoration plan to reverse the lake’s pollution and below-optimal water levels.

In recent months, residents of Pátzcuaro, which has a population of 98,000, protested the ongoing water shortages by washing clothing in the fountain at the city’s main square, Plaza Vasco de Quiroga.

“What a shame and a pity,” one user wrote after viewing the viral video. “It is a sign from Mother Nature so we can raise awareness.”

With reports from Milenio, El Financiero, Infobae, N+ and El Sol de Morelia

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