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Great Lake Cocibolca, a national drinking water reserve for Nicaragua?

Great Lake Cocibolca, a national drinking water reserve for Nicaragua?

By Salvador Montenegro Guillén

Is it worth polluting Lake Cocibolca even more to enrich an anonymous company?
How much is the water really worth in the Great Lake Cocibolca? This Lake has ecological, environmental, cultural, social, strategic, economic value, among others.

The seriousness of the water situation for many countries has led them to design strategies on how to conserve water, which is nothing other than the protection of the basin and the environment that produces it. Mexico, host country of the IV Forum, has designated water as a "strategic and national security issue." In our Nicaragua, how is this matter addressed? Our honorable National Assembly, in a flash of lucidity, has incorporated in the Generally approved Water Law, Article 97, in the Title of the Protection of Waters. This article states: “It is the responsibility of the State with the participation of municipal governments, Regional Councils, associations of municipalities, the private sector, Non-Governmental Organizations and the general population, the protection, conservation and destination of the waters of the Great Lake of Nicaragua or Cocibolca. This Lake should be considered as a "National Drinking Water Reserve ...". On the other hand, Unesco has received a request from the Nicaraguan Government to declare the Great Lake a “World Heritage Site”, although this initiative suffers from lethargy in its management. The former Association of Municipalities of the Great Lake of Nicaragua (Amugran) approved Policies of Use and Protection for the Cocibolca, very successful and responsible.


Unfortunately, these beautiful declarations lack concrete expression in daily reality, since the Great Lake Cocibolca is in serious trouble, compromising its future and, of course, ours. These conflicts can be separated into two groups: first, those that have already been banned, and that happily are under some level of attention from the municipal governments or the Central Government:
1- The cities or municipalities that surround the Cocibolca discharge municipal, agro-industrial wastewater and raw or insufficiently treated sewage directly into the lake. In some cases, such as the city of Granada, a correction to this problem is being organized, but in others such as Rivas, the “river of gold” will lead its raw sewage to the Cocibolca for many more years. Around the rest of the lake the situation is no different. These liquid wastes turn even large lakes into sewers. The example of Lake Xolotlán is a sinister mirror of this situation.

2- Solid waste or municipal garbage cover the geography of the basin. Not all waste is putrescible, since plastics, metals, fibers, glass, etc. they remain unchanged, hampering the natural processes in the body of water.

3- Extensive livestock farming continues to provide sediments and fertilizers in a massive way, from the extensive pastures in Boaco, Chontales and Rivas, which exaggeratedly increases the eutrophication of its waters, a condition of extremely destructive premature aging. In the last ten years, the Cocibolca has aged rapidly, which is observed in the changes of its biological diversity.

4- The use of agrochemicals in crops, mainly rice and sorghum, on the Nicaraguan side, and many export crops on the Costa Rican side, which come through the Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge, poison the water and sediments. Even traces of these dissolved residues have a high carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic capacity. We cannot allow its presence at any level in the water that our children and grandchildren will consume.

In the second group, with legalized impacts, there is a highly polluting agro-industrial activity, authorized by the previous Government, favored by the current one, and which is in marked increase, such as the raising of fish in floating cages, a business of a company foreigner, Nicanor. This company has dazzled the Government with the possibility of exporting 3,000 tons or 3,000,000 kilograms of filleted tilapia, a fish similar to the guapote. This is even among the expectations of the National Development Plan. We know that in 2004 and 2005, the United States bought 67,528 kg and 68,477 kg of fresh fillets of exotic fish from Nicaragua, respectively. The average price was US $ 5.78 per kilogram, so the export of those three thousand tons would mean more than 17 million dollars for the Norwegian company and its national partners. Enviable and highly desirable, if the company's operating costs were not transferred by the design of the agro-industrial process that uses floating cages, to the Nicaraguan society and environment, specifically to the detriment of the health of the Great Lake Cocibolca.


The fish farming industry must develop responsibly in properly conditioned ponds, not in natural waters, since according to the information contained in page 7 of Resolution 01-2002 of 1/16/2002, official document of the Marena addressed to the Attorney General's Office of the Environment, for each kilogram of tilapia produced, 2.77 grams of feces are generated per day, that is, 3,000,000 kg of live fish produce 8,100 kg / day, or 17,820 pounds of feces daily. The growth cycle, 270 days, transforms this amount into 2,187,000 Kg, (sic), a little more than 2,100 metric tons, or 4,811,400 pounds of feces, which must be decomposed in the Cocibolca to save the costs of treating these wastes for the industrialist. , dissolving these feces in the water that the population of Nicaragua needs to consume.

Is it worth polluting Lake Cocibolca even more to enrich an anonymous company?
How much is the water really worth in the Great Lake Cocibolca?
This Lake has ecological, environmental, cultural, social, strategic, economic value, among others. For reasons of space, let's deal only with the last value on the list: the economic one.

The production of water in the Great Lake has been quantified by the Ineter. On average for every second the lake discharges 478 cubic meters of water through the San Juan River. In a second, almost half a million liters of water leave the Great Lake! That is, each day on average 41,299,200 cubic meters of water is produced. The market value of potable water in Nicaragua, established by INAA and Enacal, (figures from the Central Bank) is C $ 14.6761 cordobas per cubic meter (1,000 liters), average value for industrial use in 2005. That is, in On any average day, the Great Lake Cocibolca is capable of generating economic value for C $ 606,111,189 (equivalent today to US $ 34,993,660), speaking only of the market value of drinking water. What other business could be developed in Nicaragua that returns 35 million dollars for each day of operation? If this seems unrealistic, the 17 million that they hope to sell in tilapia fillets for the happiness of a few in exchange for each year of contamination, clearly are not worth the three thousand tons of feces that must be dissolved in the water that we need to convert to currency, to health and education. Clearly, the national interest must prevail over the private.

Naturally, many investments will have to be made if Nicaragua ever enters the international market for the supply of the most precious commodity in the world today: clean water. The sustained export of our water surplus, however modest it may be, must become an attractive axis of development for Nicaragua. This necessarily implies investment in solving each one of the environmental problems that affect Cocibolca, both the “prohibited” and the “legal” problems, specifically that of authorized contamination with fish crammed into floating cages. Other additional benefits of cleaning and rehabilitating the environment are related to direct social benefits, such as the improvement of public health, by reducing the infectious sources, and the increase in tourist attractions is mentioned only in passing, which constitute another important item related to the health of the body of water and economic development of national importance.

The essential condition to consider a sustainable business with this water is to protect its quality. The municipalities that make up the mosaic of territories that make up the Great Lake basin could lift the entire country out of the poverty in which the entire country is debated, if they are properly organized to protect and take advantage of this resource.

When are we going to integrate this asset into our economy, for the well-being of Nicaraguan society? What will be the cost in loss of opportunities and human lives in Nicaragua, for not assuming our responsibility and correcting these errors?

* The author is Professor, UNAN-Managua - Nicaragua


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