The Toronto Star features Carlos Valdez’s Associated Press article looking at the alarming scale of the catastrophe in Bolivia.
Overturned fishing skiffs lie abandoned on the shores of what was Bolivia’s second-largest lake. Beetles dine on bird carcasses and gulls fight for scraps under a glaring sun in what marshes remain.
Lake Poopo was officially declared evaporated last month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their livelihoods and gone.
High on Bolivia’s semi-arid Andean plains at 3,700 metres and long subject to climatic whims, the shallow saline lake has essentially dried up before only to rebound to twice the area of Los Angeles.
But recovery may no longer be possible, scientists say.
“This is a picture of the future of climate change,” says Dirk Hoffman, a German glaciologist who studies how rising temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated glacial melting in Bolivia.
As Andean glaciers disappear so do the sources of Poopo’s water. But other factors are in play in the demise of Bolivia’s second-largest body of water behind Lake Titicaca.
Drought caused by the recurrent El Nino meteorological phenomenon is considered the main driver. Authorities say another factor is the diversion of water from Poopo’s tributaries, mostly for mining but also for agriculture.
National Geographic has more.
Lake Poopó gets most of its water from the Desaguadero River, which flows from Lake Titicaca (Bolivia’s largest lake). According to the published management plan, water managers are supposed to allow flow down the river into Poopó, but they have recently allowed that to slow to a trickle.
Titicaca has plenty of water in it, so that’s not the problem, Borre says. Officials just aren’t opening control gates often enough to send water down the river. Some of the water is being diverted for agriculture and mining. And even when water is available, the river is often clogged with sedimentation, due to the runoff from development and mining in the area.
Poopó is high, at 12,000 feet (3,680 meters), and the area has warmed an estimated one degree Celsius over the past century, leading to an increase in the rate of evaporation from the lake. And the lack of rain over the past year has sped the process even further. But these factors weren’t surprises, Borre says, they were foreseeable changes that scientists anticipated.
What happened to Lake Poopó is not unlike the drying of the vast Aral Sea in Central Asia, says Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and a National Geographic Explorer. In both cases, a closed water system was overdrawn, with more water going out than coming in.