U.S. Water News Online
PUNO, Peru -- Whether it ends up a sunny paddle-boat lagoon
or a de-facto sewage treatment pond, a new city project aims to solve
a pollution problem plaguing Peru's main port on Lake Titicaca, the
world's highest navigable lake.
Walking across Puno's new "Malecon Ecoturistico,'' city projects
adviser Victor Catacora says the 930-foot-long causeway of flagstone,
marble and cement will force the city to clean up the 50 acres of
Puno Bay it encloses.
A fresh breeze blows in off the lake and yellow-shouldered
blackbirds sing amid clumps of totora bulrush inside the lagoon as
wild ducks poke about.
"Nature is making a comeback,'' Catacora says.
Two workers in a wooden rowboat scoop up tiny surface plants --
lemna gibba, or "water lentils'' -- and grab the occasional plastic
pop bottle suspended on the surface of the lagoon by the carpet of
To thousands of tourists each year, Puno is a quick stop on a trip
to visit Lake Titicaca, more than two miles above sea level.
Bordering Bolivia to the south, the lake covers an area of 3,456
Legend has it that the first Inca ruler, Manco Capac, and his
wife, Mama Ocllo, rose out of the lake more than 600 years ago to
march 185 miles northwest along the spine of the Andes to found Cuzco
as their capital.
But for modern-day tourists to get out to the lake's Indian island
communities, including the floating Uros Islands made of totora
reeds, tour boats must first cut through the water lentils that cover
much of Puno Bay.
Although the bright green plants appear natural against the
immense blue sky, they thrive on sewage. For more than a decade,
officials have worried that the human waste that is fouling the bay
will turn off tourists.
Puno Mayor Mariano Portugal started building the causeway last
year and plans to convert the enclosed lagoon into a scenic spot for
canoes and paddle boats.
"Sure there is a risk &emdash; but we have to gamble in order to
win,'' projects adviser Catacora says.
Designed by architecture students at Puno's University of the
Altiplano, the attractive walkway is lined with wooden benches and
astronomically aligned metal sculptures, known as "sukankas'' in the
highland Aymara language.
In addition to skimming the surface, work crews have also sunk 1.2
miles of three-inch-thick aeration tubing that will help resupply the
enclosed lagoon with oxygen gobbled up by the water lentils.
"It's like an aquarium, only much larger,'' workman Juan Mamani
says of the bubbling tubes. Another pipe running 660 feet out into
the bay flushes water in and out of the lagoon, Catacora adds.
But biologist Marco Revollar of the government-funded Bi-National
Lake Titicaca Project says the lagoon cleanup is a superficial fix.
"What they have created is another sewage treatment lagoon that
will be in effect cleaned by the oxygenation pumps,'' he says,
stamping a forefinger on a map of the hillside neighborhoods above
the bay. "The first thing they have to do is stop the sewage from
coming in from here.''
That's the plan, according to city water works director Rosana
Verolati. So far, about 85 percent of the houses above the lagoon
have been connected to the city sewer system, she says in her office
across town. The city started cracking down on clandestine sewers
last year to accompany the waterfront construction project.
Besides connecting homes to the sewage system, the city also plans
to build a new sewage treatment plant next year on the south side of
town. The new plant will replace a treatment lagoon built on the same
spot in 1972 when Puno was home to just 40,000 residents, compared
with 120,000 today, Verolati said.
Plans call for the new lakefront plant to treat slightly more than
60 gallons of wastewater per second, nearly double the rate of the
current one, which is operating near capacity.
On the shore, across the lagoon from the new tourist walkway, it
becomes apparent just what type of challenge the municipality faces.
City work crews are busily building a new shoreline promenade
complete with observation decks. From these decks, people will be
able to align four of the metal "sukanka'' sculptures on the causeway
to the rising sun on solstice and equinox days.
Near the work crews, a waist-wide stream runs into the bay. The
water is cloudy from human waste. A walk across the putrid miniature
delta created by the trash-strewn stream sends choking clouds of
black flies into the air.
"The sewage is still coming in,'' says Jaime Mezarines, a
skeptical 18-year-old university student sitting on a grassy spot
leading into the enclosed lagoon. He points out another stream about
two football fields away that also dumps sewage-laden water into the
future paddle boat pond.
"We'll see if they cut it off,'' he said.
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