Fishers at Lake Chapala in Mexico don’t care the water level is low. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As Mexico’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Chapala is impressive. But something is missing; that something is people.

The amazing view from where I was staying made the lake look so inviting to cool off in or to take a boat ride on or perhaps paddle on. After all, it was in the mid-80s during the day.

When friends drove me around the lake it was still impressive, but less inviting. Part of this had to do with there being no obvious beaches and that the water level is extremely low because of drought conditions. Low water years make most lakes somewhat ugly because of the exposed land that should really be under water.

We had a drink at a restaurant in the town of Chapala where I wondered if in high water conditions the water might lap against the building or at least be a stone’s throw away.

Lake Chapala near Guadalajara, Mexico, is most beautiful from a distance. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’ve seen pictures of Lake Chapala with sandy areas near the malecons. Guess I just have to go back after a rainy spell.

Several towns border the lake. So do a lot of agricultural lands, which is a main reason no one is recreating on the lake.

“Lake Chapala’s principal source is the Lerma River, which originates near Toluca in Mexico state and flows through the states of Michoacán and Guanajuato before entering Jalisco. The water entering Lake Chapala from the Lerma River is highly polluted with heavy metals and other toxic substances as a result of insufficient wastewater treatment by the many industries operating near the Lerma River,” according to Global Nature Fund. “Additionally, many of the towns around the lake release their sewage and waste water into the lake without treatment. The mandated ‘federal zone’ around the lake, where construction is prohibited, suffers increasing invasion by landowners.”

Lerma River is the main source of water for Lake Chapala. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This isn’t to say zero people are utilizing the lake. Fishers are out and I saw what was called a tourist boat. Not sure if they were going from restaurant to restaurant or eventually checking out one of the three islands on this lake that sits at 5,000 feet.

However, media reports say local fishers have reported skin irritations after being in contact with the lake’s waters.

Perhaps March is just a slow period in terms of people playing in and on the water, even though it was warm. Or maybe they know better. After reading up on the lake I’m glad I didn’t even touch it.

The lake is about 48 miles long and 10 miles wide. It has a maximum depth of about 11 feet, with an average depth of 7½ feet. The shallowness adds to its problems because the lake water isn’t mixing much.

March is not the height of the dry season and still Lake Chapala is so low. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Ninety percent of the water comes from the Lerma River, the rest from rainfall.

Lake Chapala is the primary water source for Guadalajara, which is Mexico’s second largest city. That would be reason enough to want to keep this body of water more clean.

Todd Stong, an expat and civil engineer, contends improvements are being made to Lake Chapala and that it is no worse than many California beaches. But if one reads the headlines about Southern California’s beaches, they are often polluted from sewage traveling north from Tijuana. So, there is that to consider. This information was also found on a real estate agent’s site, so that person has a financial interest in promoting a healthy lake.

The Guadalajara Reporter this year has had several stories about the lake.

“The combination of lower volume, rising temperatures, and accumulation  of excess nutrients is causing the proliferation of microscopic algae along the shoreline that turns the water green, creates noxious odors and endangers fish and other species living in the ecosystem,” the paper reported in February.

The surrounding wetlands were the subject of a multi-day conference in February to address the environmental issues.

Lake Chapala is captivating from multiple vantage points. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

An article in March in the GR said, “The toxins of microalgae and cyanobacteria present in Lake Chapala likewise have a potential negative impact on human health, considering that more than 3 million inhabitants of metro Guadalajara and the lakeshore region depend on its water.”

Besides being a major source of water for Guadalajara, it is also important for migratory birds north of Mexico. American white pelicans migrate from central Canada; staying at Lake Chapala from November until March. The lake is also home to native birds, some of which can only be found there.

It’s beyond sad what humans have done to nature. It’s 2024—Mexico being a Third World country is not a justifiable excuse for continued degradation of Lake Chapala. It’s fabulous to read people are worried about the lake and want to make it healthier. Maybe it will happen in my lifetime and I’ll swim in those waters one day. It doesn’t hurt to dream.

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