GNF - Water Quality at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Protection of the drinking water sources at Lake Atitlán



With a surface area of 130 sq. km, Lake Atitlán is Guatemala’s third largest freshwater lake and a UNESCO biosphere reserve as well as a wetland of international importance (Ramsar). The lake provides its residents with vital resources such as drinking water, fish, water for irrigation of agricultural areas, and reeds. The lake itself as well as its surroundings are home to a great number of animal and plant species. Numerous migrant birds use the lake as wintering area.


To date, in the catchment area of Lake Atitlán the wastewater is discharged untreated into rivers and brooks. Thus considerable toxic substances from households and agriculture reach the lake. Also solid litter is collected and illegally dumped near the lake, so its seeping water reaches the lake untreated as well. In 2009, the pollution led to increased algae growth, caused by Cyano bacteria.  Temporarily, the algae covered 75 % of the water surface.


Guatemala is a developing country. 74 % of its inhabitants live in poverty, 34 % even  in extreme poverty. The region around Lake Atitlán is among the poorest areas of the country.


Project target is to improve the water quality of Lake Atitlán and thus preserve the vital resources for its residents and animal and plant world.


Project measures

Installation of a laboratory in the region

The installation of a regional laboratory will allow monitoring and  analyses of the water quality at Lake Aitlán. At regular intervals, chemical and physical analyses as well as tests in terms of microbiology and biodiversity will be carried out.


Sensitisation campaign

The results of the water analyses have not been presented to the public and authorities so far. The campaign will contribute to disseminate the laboratory test results to the residents and authorities in order to jointly develop measures against further pollution.


Environmental campaign for children, adolescents and adults

These environmental education measures will be carried out around the lake and include water quality issues, pollution and its prevention, the Lake Atitlan ecosystem and its biodiversity as well as sustainable economic activities.


Installation of a green filter

These alternative waste water treatment based on swimming aquatic plants is not expensive, but quite effective for moderately polluted domestic sewage. A model green filter for the sewage of a coffee roastery and a village shall be established and put into operation. The degree of purification is continuously monitored by the laboratory.


Dissemination of the project results

Other lake communities as well as NGOs, authorities and different actors in Central and South America may benefit from the results.


The project is being coordinated by the nature conservancy organisation Vivamos Mejor and realised in the region. Founded in 1980, the organisation is partner organisation of the network Living Lakes since 2005. Vivamos Mejor has already carried out numerous projects in the fields of poverty reduction and environmental protection.


More information about Lake Atitlan …

 Sunset at Lake Atitlán
 Supply with drinking water
 Children at a water conduit
 In-flow of uncleaned waste water of the river San Francisco
 View at Lake Atitlán

Official Project Titel:



Project Duration:


Project Country: 




Project Partner:

Improvement of the water quality and protection of the drinking water sources at Lake Atitlán in Guatemala


January 2010 – February 2012




Ursula Merz Foundation


Vivamos Mejor