Lake Chapala Shore

The Chapala Environment
The premier medical and dental destination in Mexico

We applaud anyone who takes care of their health. However, there is one health factor that we can not take care of individually and must take care of as a society, and that is the environment. Around the world, the condition of the environment is a question mark.

When we use our surrounding as a dumpsite, we harm ourselves. When we take from the earth sparingly and recycle our wastes, then we improve ourselves. Knowing that, you might like to know the state of this little part of the world called Lake Chapala.

This valley in Mexico is a place that one wants to take care of. It's like "MediSun". The air feels so soft, the nights sensuous, and the days illuminated. Whether one is healing on holiday or already healthy, the voluptuous environment delivers an amazing mood boost.

Lake Chapala Sunset

Sunset on Lake Chapala

Palm before the Lake

The Coordinates

Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest freshwater lake—48 miles long by 10 miles wide = 700 square miles—is a popular vacation destination for tourists from both inside and outside Mexico.

The lake is mostly in the state of Jalisco, 25 miles south of the city of Guadalajara. About a mile high, it's located on a large plateau in the Sierra Madre mountain range. A large cove extends into the state of Michoacan. Rio Lerma is the main river flowing into the lake, and Rio Santiago flows out of the lake to the Pacific Ocean.

This valley in Mexico is a place that one wants to take care of. It's like "MediSun".

Attributed: Sambit 1982,  Used under Creative Commons License.
Egret on Lake Chapala Shore

Hiking and Birding

In the hills above its north shore, there are hundreds of trails of various degrees of difficulty. Tepalo Trail, less than one kilometer, is a fairly easy walk to waterfalls which run during the summer wet season. A local group of hikers maintain the route and mark it with white painted stones.

The lake is home to thousands of indigenous plants and animals, especially aquatic bird life. About a nearby lake, Pátzcuaro, Indians tell a fable about a princess who dove into the watery depths to avoid marriage and became a guardian of the lake for all time. From that spot emerged a large bird totally covered with white feathers—the egret. They warn that the day that the egrets disappear, so too will the lake.

The south shore of Lake Chapala is not as developed as the north, and the villages are spaced farther apart, making that side a paradise for wildlife. The Audubonistas de Laguna de Chapala hold an annual Christmas Bird Count, espying dozens of species. Lake Chapala is also on the flight path of many bird species that migrate to the the area from the north to spend winter, such as the white pelican and the bobwhite.

Water Quantity & Quality

Over the last two decades of the last millennium, the water level of the lake fell. A drought lasted a few years, while farmers withdrew water for irrigating crops. The government put dams on the Rio Lerma. Development deforested the shores of the river and the lake, causing erosion that settled on the lake bottom; becoming shallower warmed the lake and increased evaporation. The fast-growing city of Guadalajara with its five million residents then (as now) also tapped the lake for drinking water.

Both industry and agriculture allowed their wastes to runoff into the Rio Lerma, the feeder river. Pollutants from farms and municipalities increased nutrients in the lake for invasive species. The water hyacinth, however pretty it may be, bloomed and drank a lot of the lake. Its presence and that of the pollutants drastically decreased the fish population.

Water Hyacinth
Water Hyacinth
fishing on Lake Patzcuaro
Fishing on Lake Patzcuaro

The sorry state of the lake over a decade ago led the Global Nature Fund to declare Lake Chapala the "Threatened Lake of the Year" in 2004.

Government was slow to defend the environmental rights of residents. Citizens' pressure and competing interests uncovered political issues that had been hidden for many years. Grassroots activists united and allied with international entities, including the scientific community, to craft conservation programs in order to maintain the natural habitats of the lake and the health of the regional ecosystem.

By 2007, the water level rose dramatically, though not yet back to the peak level of 1979. In 2009 on February 4, the Mexican government granted the lake Ramsar Protection Status. By 2010, the government had built water treatment plants along the Rio Lerma, improving water quality. Of course, insisting that farms and factories recycle their byproducts, as is SOP in Scandinavia, would work best. Better to prevent a problem upstream than try to solve it downstream. (Gradually, governments everywhere will learn that easy but not obvious lesson.)

Testing Water Quality

Whether or not the lake is safe for swimming, people debate the issue. Yet at the same time, experts from Harvard say the fish are edible (go figure). Fishermen pull whitefish (Chirostoma), tilapia, carp, mojarra, and catfish from the lake.

For lakeside families, fish caught in Lake Chapala fill a large part of their diet. Yet are the catch contaminated by the effluence from factories upstream? Harvard scientists sought the answer.

The researchers examined the most vulnerable populations—fetuses and newborns. Mothers gave samples of their hair, blood, and urine. After giving birth, they visited clinics to undergo complex developmental evaluations.

Researchers concluded that eating Lake Chapala white fish like tilapia and charales at least once a week is healthy for pregnant mothers. The study's developmental testing revealed no negative effects on cognition, language, or motor skills among infants. Locals were relieved.

Source of Protein for Lake Chapala Residents
Beach Goers
Palm Trees along Shore

Guadalajara to Drink More?

As Guadalajara keeps growing by leaps and bounds, and as springtime warming makes residents thirstier than ever, the Intercity System of Drinking Water and Sewerage (SIAPA) has hired a dredger to reopen the flow of water from a polluted canal 16 kilometers north of Lake Chapala, last used in 1985. Once opened, the channel could let more than 2000 liters per second into the city.

Some gated communities around Guadalajara have water only during limited times of the day. One suburb is calling for a second aqueduct between Lake Chapala and Guadalajara. It's a long-standing demand.

However, activist organizations in the Chapala area have argued for years that a second aqueduct is not needed. Instead, they propose plugging the leaks in the original, antiquated aqueduct. Another feasible solution, as practiced in Israel, is to recycle used water rather than just flush it away.

The Poor's Water

In a poor area of Guadalajara, residents worry that they are drinking bad tap water. After hospitalization for giving birth, kidney failure—fatal in infants—is the second most common kind of visit, accounting for one fifth of all hospital visits. However, investigators from the University of Guadalajara concluded the culprit was not drinking water but poverty and poor diet.

Researchers did not find heavy metals in the water but did find lead in the air and in the floors of the humble homes. Mothers had been cooking on open fires, burning fuel contaminated with lead. Their infants inhaled the bad air.

While these scientists did not find lead in the public drinking water, in 2014 others examined water from wells in these poor barrios and found other pollutants.

Fountain near plaza, Lake Chapala
Water, Air and the Right Ions
Nopal Cactus

Student Problem Solvers

Fortunately, the situation is not all bleak. Mexicans are addressing their problems, especially the new generation. Some high schools students have come up with such a sparkling solution that the Stockholm International Water Institute awarded them the "Nobel Prize for Water" for the best project for managing water sustainably, a prize equivalent in importance to human health and the environment to the actual Nobel Prizes (which, BTW, does not include a laurel for economics; that prize actually is a creation of the central banks).

Clarissa Camargo Tapia, Julisa Guadalupe Lugo Pacheco, and Doryan Brenda Laura, ranging in age from sixteen to seventeen, discovered that the thick, sticky liquid extracted from the nopal cactus can purify water.

The three students poured a mix of dirty water onto the gooey extract. The adhesive viscous liquid soaked up the arsenic, fluorocarbons, lead, and fecal matter like a sponge. It actually made contaminated water drinkable.

The three teens go to high school in the Valley of Mezquital in Hidalgo where residents have a long tradition of purifying water with this gum from the nopal cactus, which grows plentifully there.

The sticky stuff found in abundance in the cactus is also found in high concentrations in seaweed, seeds, and other vegetables besides nopal.

The three students extracted the gluey liquid from the nopal, then eliminated the fiber with acetones, and next dehydrated the gum, reducing it to a powder with the property of purification.

Their organic invention was so effective at purifying water that it could remove sulfate of aluminum, the first time this had been accomplished without harmful side effects.

After this youthful team first won the Premio Juvenil del Agua, they traveled to Sweden last September to participate in the international competition during the City of Stockholm's Water Week.

An advisor to the Mexican government stated that they plan to research and develop the girls' winning project intensely for the next two years.

Next Steps

It is so uplifting to see a country that has had problems with its drinking water for so long be the first in the world to develop a solution that is highly effective, organic, and sustainable. Of course, DocTours will continue to use more conventional methods to purify water until this new technology takes over. We look forward to that happy day.

Given such progress, we can see that eco-tourism in Mexico is cutting edge and growing. Where could you take a "green" vacation in Mexico? What are the eco-tourism destinations in Mexico?

Come for the eco-tourism and combine that venture with some medical or dental tourism in Mexico. We here at DocTours can answer all your questions about how to get esthetic surgery in Mexico, where can you find affordable medical treatment In Mexico, and who are the best dentists in Mexico.

eco tourism docks
Palapa Dock on the Lake
Egrets Headed Home

Before and between procedures, you can spend your free time visiting exotic locales and getting to know a foreign culture and tropical nature. Some of our favorites are the outdoor markets; another is the lakeside promenade, with pauses for energizing drinks and exquisite food, and of course the lake itself. Your recovery room is in a friendly house in a walkable town.

If you enjoy traveling with another, familiarize them with this site, too.

Happy trails!