Innovative water management solutions in the Lake Titicaca-Poopo Basin


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Innovative Water Management Solutions in the Lake Titicaca-Poopo Basin



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

Drinking water and sewage systems are largely deficient. Average drinking water coverage in major cities reaches about 60 percent. El Alto is the only city that has a wastewater treatment system. The other main cities in the TDPS (Oruro, Puno and Juliaca) do not have appropriate systems and their sewage disposals are a cause of water contamination. During dry seasons, glaciers are the main source of drinking and irrigation water for many urban dwellers and farmers living in Peru and Bolivia. However, the climate variability and associated changes in ambient temperatures have started affecting the tropical glaciers of the region. The loss in volume of these unique tropical glaciers is alarming, and continuing melting trends will translate into drought for thousands of people. The consequences of glacial melting for local populations are serious. Acting as reservoirs, glaciers regulate stream flow and diminish seasonal discharge variation. This effect is vital, especially between September and November, when ice melting (and water demand) is at its maximum. Discharges in glacier basins are important during those months, since the flows of other rivers in the Altiplano Basins reach minimum levels.

Furthermore, human activities are causing severe organic and bacteriological contamination, espeiclaly due to urban wastes and mining. Poor waste disposal is the central cause of organic contamination in all the important urban centres in the basin. The most polluted areas affected by sewage discharge are Puno's interior bay (undergoing a moderate eutrophic process), the lower course of the Coata River, because of the discharge from the city of Juliaca, and Uru Uru Lake, due to discharge from the city of Oruro. Heavy metal contamination is the result of mining activities in the zone.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

To counterbalance the negative effects of glacial melting, more dams and reservoirs will have to be constructed, increasing the cost of the water supply to Andean cities. It can be expected that the additional cost will be transferred to urban users by means of tariff increases, particularly in El Alto and La Paz, where the urban water supply is under private administration. However, judging from recent social movements, any tariff increase would likely trigger potential conflicts, particularly in the poorest areas of El Alto. The additional costs of flow regulation in glacier basins could also be hard to afford for small and medium-sized irrigation systems, rendering rural poor more vulnerable.

Taking into account the fragility of the system with regard to flood protection and prevention, a series of flow regulation works have also been defined at basin level and in the system in general. In 2001 the first dam was finished, close to the International Bridge over the Desaguadero River. The main objective of the dam is to prevent, or at least protect, the surrounding area from floods. Other benefits of this dam include protection of the vast fish populations and aquatic vegetation and provision of an extended secure irrigation. Moreover, The Master Plan, developed with the cooperation of the European Community, was drawn up between 1991 and 1993 under the title Master Plan for Flood Prevention and the Usage of Water Resources.. This plan constitutes the basic reference and twenty-year framework for the future development of the system, and is based on the following elements:

  • Focusing actions in a framework of sustainable use of natural resources, with resources as the central element;
  • Recovering the system's ecological integrity in terms of protecting endangered species, replenishing fish populations and mitigating human impact on the system;
  • Promoting human development within the basins.

However, whilst lake management shows a good degree of adjustment to the first two points, promotion of human development within the system has had a low level of success due to the difficulty of overcoming basic poverty in the area.

Results and Impact

Poverty is rife in the area of the Lake Titicaca-Poopo Basin, and remains the underlying cause of many social problems amomgst rural and urban populations alike. The poor are struggling to meet the the most basic of food ans water needs, and even if these people have access to water and health services, they can only marginally take advantage due to poverty. As such, water-related problems are inextricably intertwined with broader social and economic issues, and are being dealt with within the greater social framework, according to IWRM principles.

Poverty is a crucial issue undermining social development and the cause of many problems in both rural and urban populations. Managing water-related issues must be undertaken within a framework related to this broader social context, as better management of Peru and Bolivia's land, water and gas resources is really the only means to break the vicious circle of poverty.

Lessons for Replication

In areas of suffering from severe poverty, water-related problems must be managed within the broader social framework, as part of an integrated water resources management plan. Neither water management or human development can, or should, be tackled in isolation. Contextual issues are important.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)


See also

Additional case studies in Lake Titicaca
  1. Co-operation on the Lake Titicaca

External Resources

WWDR2 case study summary


 Lake titicaca.pdf

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