How Clean Is Lake Chapala?

I’m back on a lake at long last. Lake Chapala.

Let me explain.

I grew up on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont, one of the largest lakes in the U.S. other than the Great Lakes. Lake Champlain was and is beautiful and relatively pristine. I remember days of pleasure on and in the lake, swimming, fishing, wading, picnicking, and camping.

Lake Chapala reminds me in some ways of those early days of my life. Relatively little beachfront with actual sandy beaches. More marsh and shrubland.

When we first thought about moving to the Chapala, we read that the lake was seriously polluted, and getting worse. And visiting the malecons and the few beaches, we rarely saw people swimming. Lots of families on the shores, but rarely anyone in the water. Boats, yes. People, no.

So we weren’t sure.

Now, I’m happy to say, the issue is settled. In a report titled Lake Chapala: State of the Lake 2018, the authors rely on the analysis of Dr. Todd Stong, a prominent and widely-respected civil engineer. Turns out that Lake Chapala is in quite good environmental condition. Safe for swimming. Safe for fishing. And the Lake is a major source of water for Guadalajara.

Lake Chapala is slowly, very slowly, disappearing. Indeed, it is already quite shallow. As the report notes, the average depth is fourteen feet. Each year adds an increment of sediment to the bottom of the Lake. Over the course of thousands of years, the Lake will turn to marsh and finally land.

The report is quite enlightening. I recommend reading it. It’s brief and factual. So, have no fear. The Lake is just fine.

12 thoughts on “How Clean Is Lake Chapala?”

  1. For those who stand at the lake edge it may look trashy and dirty. The trash is due to lack of government cleaning. The dirty look is due to wave action which stirs up the muddy bottom out to 20-50 ft. The water 100-500 ft out from the shore is quite clear. Over 3 million persons in Guadalajara are provided water daily from the lake with rather normal processing (sedimentation, sand filtering and chlorination).

    1. Thank you, Dr. Stong. I’d wondered about that. Glad to hear of the clarity further out. And good to see that at least in Chapala, the city is making an effort to clear the beach debris. Also looking forward to the return of the pelicans (at least I think they are pelicans–those huge white birds that populated the water here in Chapala until a couple of months ago. Bonita recently took a boat excursion from Mezcala to the Isla del Presidio and noted that the birds had all moved there.) I did get a chuckle from the report that the lakeshore communities have well water while Guadalajara uses the Lake.

    2. So why don’t people drink the water?

      Straight out of the lake? We’re not aware of anywhere in the populated world where water straight out of a lake is considered safe to drink. My understanding is that water from Lake Chapala is used for drinking water, with some purification, by Guadalajara.

  2. Thanks for the info on the lake. I was searching for the info on the web. I also read your blogs and found the information very useful. Looking at February 2019 to come down for a vacation.

  3. Totally untrue, since then the annual publication “The State of the Lake”
    has changed authors and admitted that the lake is indeed polluted. A study was done by the University of Guadalajara investigating why now one village on the lake has the highest rate of kidney failure in the entire world. The conclusion is that there are pesticides in the lake that evaporate and are inhaled by the population. Do you think the air the expats breathe is any different? Here is the study.

    1. I have not seen anything about the publication changing. I’m aware of the study (ies) by the University. Once I
      see a change, I’ll update the post.

  4. Why did you remove my comment? Is it true that “Dr.” Stong is on the board of Chapala Realty?

  5. If you are aware of the university study, how can you still say that the lake is not polluted? The State of the Lake is an annual publication, your version is 2018, here is 2019..
    Lake Chapala Pollution

    The particular pressures facing Lake Chapala are related to the aforementioned industrial and
    agricultural waste, dumping heavy metal and pesticide residue into the lake, and the lack of modern
    waste treatment plants. Currently, many towns and villages around the lake release waste water and
    sewage directly into the lake. The approximately 40 waste water treatment plants that are functioning are outdated and ineficient.

    Lake Chapala: State of the Lake 2019
    A study prepared by the Mexican Water Technology Institute indicates that the water quality of the lake varies in different parts of the lake, with the most contaminated areas located near the mouth of the Lerma river and the area of the lake directly in front of Chapala, Ajijic, San Juan Cósala and Jocotepec. The contamination near the mouth of the Lerma river is primarily chemical, while the contamination found in the tourist areas is primarily organic. The fields of corn, sorghum, alfalfa and chickpea, located in La Barca, Jamay and Poncitlán use pesticides fertilizers that end up in the lake. You really need to update and correct your information as the lake is severely polluted. Here is an updated version of The State of the Lake.

  6. Felipe,
    I’m interested in all that you know about the quality of water around the lake. I thought I would spend a year there, but I value my health more than pretending I’m in paradise. Lots of people just aren’t capable of understanding the danger they place themselves in. As so many say, “You have to die of something.” I choose to have control of that matter, and not leave it up to poor management. I would like to speak to you further if you don’t mind. I will await your response.

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