The Lake Atitlán basin is a closed watershed located in the volcanic highlands of Guatemala, Central America with competing uses and serious problems of water pollution, soil erosion and forest and biodiversity losses. In 1996 the Authority for the Sustainable Management of the Atitlán Basin (AMSCLAE) was established; it produced a Master Plan in 2000. However, the plan is still under revision; only a few measures are being undertaken, in a fragmented manner.
Thus, so far the impact of any water resources management measures taken in the Lake Atitlán basin has been limited.
The main barriers to success are the lack of public participation, institutional coordination, investment funds and funding for AMSCLAE. Legislation establishing AMSCLAE failed to specify a source for funding its operations. The major beneficiaries of the lake (e.g. hotels and wealthy homeowners) contribute nothing to lake conservation costs.
The Master Plan itself is controversial, which had delayed approval. Review by government agencies suggests that some projects have been inappropriately assigned to agencies without the proper implementation mandate. There is no overall coordination among relevant agencies, most of which are hampered by inadequate financial resources and are staffed with technical people, rather than decision-makers.
The main barriers to an integrated management of the water resources in the basin are strongly interlinked. Low public awareness means that democratically elected decision-makers do not make it a priority. Water resources management is not a prime election issue; none of the candidates for mayors in recent elections campaigned on environmental issues.
Lack of political will results in low investments. Lack of coordination makes public awareness campaigns harder to implement. Lack of investments makes institutions and coordination mechanisms weak.
Importance of case for IWRM
The case illustrates the importance of building political and a strong enabling environment if an IWRM approach is properly applied in the basin.
Photo credit: Jocelyn Saurini