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Friends of Lake Chapala challenge Mexican government
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Environment News Service (ENS)

The government of Mexico has been asked to respond to allegations by nine Mexican environmental organizations that it has failed to effectively enforce its environmental law with respect to the Lerma-Chapala-Santiago-Pacífico basin. Lake Chapala is located in Mexico's southcentral highlands, and the basin extends into five states.

The environmentalists have complained about environmental deterioration and uneven water distribution in the basin to the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), created under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). They warn that Lake Chapala and its migratory bird habitat could eventually disappear.

On December 19, 2003, the Secretariat requested an answer from the Mexican government, which has up to 60 days to respond.

Lake Chapala is drying up and even after the 2003 rainy season stand at only 37 percent of its total volume, according to Sociedad Amigos del Lago de Chapala, one of the submitting groups.

The water of the lake is polluted by industrial waste, domestic sewage and agricultural chemicals. Existing sewage treatment plants are either not working at all or are not efficient, says Amigos del Lago.

Even the city of Guadalajara, with over six million people, has no waste water treatment plant, and the untreated water is used for irrigation of agricultural products for consumption in Mexico, Canada and the United States, warns the environmental group.

Waters are highly contaminated with DDT, agricultural chemicals, copper, lead, chromium, zinc, cyanide, sewage and phosporus. One study of discharges of nine water plants emptying directly into the lake found phosporus levels 74 times higher than the U.S. EPA standard.

In their submission to the CEC on May 23, 2003, the environmental groups allege that Mexico is not enforcing several provisions of the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y la Protección al Ambiente) and the National Water Law (Ley de Aguas Nacionales) and their regulations.

These provisions assign water management responsibilities to the federal executive branch and allow the public to participate in the development and execution of the country's environmental policy and in the enforcement of environmental laws.

The groups assert that civil society has participated in a number of consultations regarding the condition of the basin, with no known results, and that there is an absence of government action for them to challenge before administrative tribunals.

They refer to the Arcediano dam project on the Santiago River, claiming it is inconsistent with current policy, and state that authorities did not follow through on complaints from residents of Juanacatlán with respect to alleged human health impacts caused by pollution of that river.

They assert that the National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua) is failing to exercise its duties to decide on the use and distribution of water in the Basin by delegating this task to the Basin Council (Consejo de Cuenca), which, they allege, has no legal authority to make such decisions.

The citizen submissions mechanism of the CEC enables the public to play a whistleblower role on matters of environmental law enforcement, the Secretariat explains. Any person or nongovernmental organization may submit a claim alleging that a NAFTA partner has failed to effectively enforce its environmental law.

If the government of Mexico does not respond within 60 days, the CEC Secretariat will determine whether the groups' submission warrants the development of a factual record on the issue.

Lake Chapala has been accepted as a permanent member of Living Lakes, a worldwide network of lakes under the guidance of the Global Nature Fund.

Amigos del Lago says that with this membership there is increased political and moral pressure on the governments of the states along the Lerma-Chapala basin and the federal government, as well as the National Water Commission and interest groups from agriculture and industry to improve water management policies and assure a healthy existence of Lake Chapala and its river system.

 

Kivu Refugees

 

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