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Lake Life in Perú

23rd May 2016

Lakes are great tourism destinations, not to mention essential water sources for mountain ecosystems! Perú is a wonderful destination for exploring lakes; it has over 12,000 lakes and lagoons, including Lake Titicaca, the largest freshwater lake in South America.

Lake Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun according to Andean mythology and was created by massive earthquakes 60 million years ago and then filled in with glacier melt. Lake Titicaca sits in both Perú and Bolivia at 12,467 feet above sea level and holds 214 cubic miles of water. Lake Titicaca’s featured activities include boat rides, shopping in the marketplace, and visiting culturally and geographically interesting islands on the lake. Unfortunately, the economic impact from tourism that filters back to the local communities around Lake Titicaca is relatively low even though the tourism industry has witnessed a steady increase over several years.

For comparisons sake, Lake Tahoe, sits on the border of Nevada and California in the US, is at 6,224 feet above sea level and contains 36 cubic miles of water. Lake Tahoe was created 3-5 million years ago when a valley that would become the Tahoe Basin sank between parallel fractures in the Earth’s crust as the mountains on either side continued to rise (tahoefund.org). The Lake Tahoe region is home to adventure travelers from around the world that come year round for skiing and snowboarding in the winter and jet skiing, tubing, and marathoning in the summer. Lake Tahoe tourism brings a reported $1.5 billion USD into the surrounding resort communities to support infrastructure and sustain this resource.

Even though both lakes are located on different continents, have different tourism opportunities, are different sizes, and provide drastically different levels of economic impact to the surrounding community, they both face significant environmental sustainability challenges. Most tourist activities and local communities depend on the water in the lake. Lake Tahoe is entirely dependent on the amount of snow fall they receive per year to ensure water levels remain high. For every one inch of snow that accumulates, 3.3 billion gallons of water are deposited into Lake Tahoe. If the region does not receive enough snow each season, they make snow to imitate a snow vacation for travelers. This allows them to come out even when snow levels are low.

Lake Titicaca has multiple sustainability concerns. In addition to increasing levels of pollution that enter the lake because of urban sprawl along the lake’s coast, scientists are concerned with the possible disappearance of the lake by 2030 due to climate change. Most recently, the rainy season has been shorter resulting in shrinking shorelines around the lake. On the bright side, Peru and Bolivia have signed a $500 million deal to cleanup the lake over the next ten years. Both countries are investing in water treatment plants and have concrete goals for helping the lakeshore communitites in the coming years, although much work remains.

The disappearance of Lake Titicaca will drastically change the landscape and create economic conflict over the remaining water resources since much of the water is used for farming and irrigation. Creating projects that support the long-term sustainability of water resources in Perú and Bolivia will go a long way in preserving its 12,000+ lakes and lagoons; creating #LakeLife opportunities in Perú and Bolivia for locals and travelers alike. 

By Erin Harris

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