Development & Aid, Environment, Tierramerica

Paraguayan “Jewel” Lake Loses Its Luster

ASUNCIÓN, Oct 4 2010 (IPS) - Increasingly murky waters and the proliferation of trash along the shore await visitors to Paraguay's Lake Ypacaraí.

Garbage is evident on Paraguayan city beach. - Natalia Ruiz Díaz/IPS

Garbage is evident on Paraguayan city beach. - Natalia Ruiz Díaz/IPS

Just two months before the austral summer season begins, Lake Ypacaraí, centerpiece of Paraguay's campaign to promote tourism, has become the center of attention for its polluted waters.

The state of Lake Ypacaraí is cause for concern because it is a major destination for domestic tourism, especially in the municipality of San Bernardino, 48 kilometers from the capital.

The main attraction in San Bernardino, with its title of “summer city,” is this 90-square-km lake, which is no longer the blue jewel evoked in the song “Recuerdos de Ypacaraí” (Memories of Ypacaraí).

“Although we've been working for a long time with the local municipalities on reducing pollution, the waste keeps coming,” José Luis Casaccia, the environmental prosecutor, told Tierramérica.

The lake is surrounded by at least 10 cities in the Central and Cordillera provinces, in Paraguay's southeastern region.

The common denominator of those cities is the lake of sanitation systems. The sewage and wastewater runs untreated into nearby watersheds, including the San Lorenzo and Jukyry rivers, and area wetlands.

At this time of year, furthermore, green algae flourish along the shoreline.

“The algae is the product of excessive nutrients and lack of oxygen in the lake resulting from the over-accumulation of mud and sewage sediments,” said Casaccia.

In 2005, the Environmental Prosecutor's Office found that about 100 industries were engaged in activities that harmed Lake Ypacaraí, which was declared a national park in May 1990.

But the protection associated with park status was not enough to stop the effects of urbanization and industries lacking adequate infrastructure, or the impacts of tourism in places like San Bernardino and Areguá.

Drastic measures are needed, according to Casaccia, who is a former environment minister. But the municipal authorities don't see the problem as urgent.

San Bernardino's Mayor Berna Espinoza told Tierramérica that the situation of the lake is not so serious.

“It has always been like this. The algae, for example, appear when it is hot; they rise to the surface because of the heat of the sun. They are toxic, like some say,” said Espinoza.

Gustavo Florentín, president of the Paraguay Environmental Awareness Foundation, warned about the use of cleaning products, such as detergents with certain ingredients, that end up in the lake.

“The green appearance of the water is due to the excess of nutrients in the lake from runoff of household and industrial waste with high content of sodium triphosphate,” Florentín told Tierramérica.

The chemical compound elevates the concentration of nitrogen and phosphate, which in turn drives the presence of organisms like algae.

There are plenty of plans for cleaning up Lake Ypacaraí, including some drafted by foreign experts.

“There was always the drawback of the local share,” said Casaccia. The Paraguayan government was to contribute some 10 million dollars for a recovery strategy whose total cost was 60 million dollars.

The Ministry of Public Works presented a plan in August for the recovery and clean-up of the lake's watershed, which is to be financed by the Korean corporation Samsung, as part of a corporate social responsibility policy. The budget for that initiative is five million dollars.

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