Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands is a world treasure; regarded as one of the most beautiful Lakes on Earth. Tourism is booming and the human population around the Lake is rapidly expanding. The Lake itself is in a crater and has no surface outflow so everything that flows in, stays in. This includes raw sewage from over 20 towns (on and above the lake) and large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides from unsustainable chemical agriculture. Without a bunch of grassroots efforts like this one, the scientific agency in charge of monitoring the lake, AMSCLAE, claims it will reach the point of non recovery within 7 years. It has become VERY clear that the “powers that be” who are in charge of protecting Lake Atitlan in Guatemala are not going to get the job done. In a country rife with corruption, any governmental funds end up lining pockets and local mayors have no plan of action.
Beyond destroying its natural beauty, the eutrophication of the lake threatens the livelihood of all who live here. At any given moment, roughly 20% of the population suffers from e-coli, amoebas, ghirdia and other intestinal pathogens, the main source being the contaminated drinking water from the Lake. In addition, Cyanobacteria blooms release toxins that are poisonous to the fish and invertebrates in the lake as well as the hundreds of thousands of people that depend on the lake for their drinking water. The lake is besieged daily by thousands of gallons of raw sewage bringing with it an enormous amount of putrefactive bacteria and other pathogens. During rainy season thousands of tons of organic matter and chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, etc wash off the surrounding fields and into Lake Atitlan. This combination of sewage nutrients and chemical nutrients is far more then the lake can handle and it is deteriorating at a very fast pace. To make matters worse, in some areas there is no water source for farming and local farmers are using the effluent from the waste water treatment plants to irrigate their crops. NONE of these treatment plants even come close to properly treating the sewage so the farmers are irrigating their crops with basically raw sewage causing a human health crisis.
BIOREMEDIATION AS PART OF THE SOLUTION
Bio-remediation is the process of using beneficial natural microorganisms to combat harmful ones and restore environments back to where they were previously. The good bacteria competitively exclude the bad bacteria and pathogens, digest nutrients in the sewage and are used to help transition chemical farmers to organic practices. These beneficial bacteria are the same ones that would normally inhabit a healthy ecosystem (whether that ecosystem is a lake, soil or our digestive tracts). They consist of Lactic Acid bacteria (the same strains found in yogurt, etc), yeasts (the same strains used in the making of bread, beer, etc) and photosynthetic bacteria (the same strains that are in healthy soil). They are grown in a special system to be used to repopulate them back into the environments where humans have caused the natural balance to shift to the putrefactive side (sewage treatment plants, chemically damaged soils, water bodies suffering from nutrient overloading and putrefactive bacteria inflows, etc).
The 2 areas we plan to focus on initially are the sewage treatment plants and chemical farming in the Lake Atitlan watershed. Beneficial microorganisms are used world wide in sewage treatment plants to speed up and increase the effectiveness of their processes and greatly reduce their outflow parameters (ie, reduces nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), Total Suspended Solids (TSS), drastically reduces sludge amounts and coliforms such as e-coli). Beneficial microorganisms are also used world wide to remediate damaged soils. The land around lake Atitlan has been so damaged by chemical fertilizer use that the majority of the land can no longer support agriculture without the use of chemical fertilizers or a complete remediation. Repopulating the beneficial microorganisms in the soil is the fastest and most effective way to remediate damaged soils to transition to sustainable organic farming practices and is used world wide to do so.
We are seeking financing to set up a beneficial microorganisms production facility in Santiago Atitlan Guatemala to combat the pathogens and chemical fertilizer problems at their sources. These sources include wastewater treatment plants which will be done in conjunction with AMSCLAE (the authority in charge of policing the waste water treatment plants in the Lake Atitlan watershed). This grant will fund the construction of the facility and cover the costs of funding a 6 month pilot project with AMSCLAE at the San Bartolo wastewater treatment plant in Solola. The outflow from this plant currently contains over 1100 times the accepted level of colliforms (e-coli, etc) and is used for direct irrigation onto human food consumption crops such as carrots, onions, cabbage, etc. Beneficial microorganisms have been shown in many studies to both drastically reduce colliform levels and increase growth rates and production of plants. Using them to treat the waste water in the San Bartolo wastewater plant will both significantly reduce pathogen exposure by the local farmers and increase the yields of their crops resulting in a huge benefit for the local population of indigenous farmers.
We will also be using the facility to provide beneficial microorganisms at low cost to hotels and businesses around the lake and working with schools to setup educational and student involvement programs in conjunction with several organizations that are already involved in school programs including ARLA and it’s 400 volunteers. Using beneficial microbial products to treat wastewater and convert chemical agricultural farmers to sustainable organic practices has been a common practice in much of the world for decades. We look to help the Lake Atitlan basin catch up with other areas of the world in the stewardship of the local environment and save Lake Atitlan by attacking the problems that are causing it’s eutrophication at their sources. At the same time we will improve the health of local residents, increase their economic outputs and standard of living and raise awareness for the actual causes of what’s happening to the lake.
References for beneficial Microorganism usage in wastewater and agriculture around the world:
1.City of Los Angeles case study that shows the power of beneficial microbes to combat e-coli and accomplish a complete remediation of the affected area. Colliforms in this study were reduced from 15,300 MPN\100 ML down to just 30!
- City of Cartagena Columbia wastewater application. In this study beneficial microorganisms only had 2.5 hours of retention time and reduced TSS (Total Suspended Solids) by 68% and BOD (biological Oxygen Demand) by 66 % and total coliforms by 91%!
A study done using beneficial Microorganisms to treat sewage and then use the sewage to grow vegetables. It documents an amazing difference in plant growth and nutrient content between bare soil, non beneficial microbe treated waste and beneficial microbe treated waste.
- This is a fabulous study done by UNICEF in Uganda for beneficial microorganisms used in latrines. http://www.unicef.org/wash/schools/files/ICON_Case_Study_Uganda_-_Use_of_Effective_microorganism_(EMO)_for_stench_elimination_and_sludge_reduction_in_latrines.pdf
- This study shows a 92% reduction in costs at a waste water treatment plant in Japan while input increased 123%. Costs are also a major problem for towns on the Lake.
- I think this quote from a study done by the City of Meridian Texas says it all about the odor eliminating power and Phosphorous reduction Power of beneficial microorganisms. Here’s a quote from the study: “Odor was eliminated within 2 hours of the first application and did not return until after the trial had completed. Grease solids that were visible on lift station walls were digested within the first week of applications. Phosphorus levels dropped from 3.92 to 0.13 during the 4-week trial.”
EDUCATION AS A KEY COMPONENT
The facilities will also provide beneficial microorganisms for a community outreach program that will educate the local population on the use of beneficial microbes in their toilets as well as sustainable organic agriculture practices to combat the use of chemical fertilizers. Simple and clear educational materials will be created by local volunteers in English, Spanish, Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil and free workshops and educational events will be held. We also will be working with organizations that already participate in school programs to “plug into” their systems and promote environmental and Lake awareness in the schools. Education is a major key to an ongoing, sustainable effort to care for the environment in a place where awareness is sorely lacking.
AN INTERCULTURAL COOPERATIVE EFFORT
We are working closely with locals and community leaders in several towns around the lake, including San Marcos, Tzununa, San Pablo, San Pedro, Panajachel, Santiago and Solola and have many volunteers that are contributing their time and efforts to help this project succeed. Awareness of the critical point that Lake Atitlan is reaching is spreading through the local population and the environment for change is prime so this is the time to capitalize on local concerns and work with the local communities.
VOLUNTEER EFFORTS TO SUPPORT THIS PROJECT
AMSCLAE- AMSCLAE has agreed to provide scientific monitoring and oversight of the project of developing the scientific base info needed at an initial project in the San Bartolo Wastewater Treatment plant. The data collected each sampling will be Total Nitrogen (N), Total Phosphorous (P), Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and coliform levels. This data will be used to expand the use of beneficial microorganisms into other wastewater treatment plants in the Lake Atitlan Basin.
- This monitoring is according to the following schedule:
1. 4 consecutive weeks prior to inoculation beginning.
2. Weekly monitoring for the first 6 weeks of the project.
3. Monthly monitoring for months 3-6.
2. ARLA has pledged it’s 400 local, indigenous volunteer members to help with community education, composting and application projects to educate and raise awareness of the problems facing the Lake within the local community.
3 .Lake Atitlan Environmental Interests is supplying all educational materials, technical support and onsite management for the whole project as well as the beneficial microbes for the educational programs.
GOALS OF THE PROJECT
- The facility expansion part of this grant will setup the facility to provide beneficial microorganisms for wastewater treatment projects with AMSCLAE to treat the waste water that currently is 100s of times below standards both in an initial pilot project and for use going forward in many agricultural, waste water and educational projects.
- The Mother culture acquisition part of this grant will provide the Beneficial Microorganisms to treat the waste water of the San Bartolo waste water treatment plant that is currently being used for agricultural purposes and causing sickness and disease in the local population.
- Currently coliforms in effluent are 1100 x 10(4) and standards is <1 x 10(4). We plan to bring them down below 20 x 10(4).
- Current nitrogen and Phosphorus outputs are 6.57 and 38 respectively. We plan to bring those numbers closer to 3 and 10.
- Total Suspended Solids (TSS) are currently 39.2 We plan to bring that number to below 20.
- The community outreach portion of this project will reach out to local organizations such as the Tuleros, coffee producers, fishermans associations, launcheros, ARLA, etc to educate them on the real issues facing the lake and how they can make changes in their habits and then they can in turn educate their community on more environmentally friendly practices and sustainable agriculture. These relationships are already in place.
COSTS OF THE PROJECT:
- Extension Facility addition construction $11,000
- Facility equipment:
- 8 large tanks for Extension $400
- 2 transfer pumps $250
- Hot water heater $200
- Plumbing and electrical supplies $150
- Water filter system w/ ultra violet $800
- Tools $800
- Application sprayer $400
- Total $3,000
- Reactants for AMSCLAE monitoring of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, TSS and coliforms
- Nitrogen 1 kit = 25 tests 1700Q Need 2 kits 3400Q
- Phosphorus 1 kit = 25 tests 1700Q Need 2 kits 3400Q
- TSS (total Suspended Solids) 1 box 100 filters 800Q
- Coliforms 1 bottle 250 tests 2500Q
- cleaning supplies (Acetone, hydrochloric acid, detergent, demineralized water) 1369Q
Total for AMSCLAE testing 11,469Q / 7.6 = $1509
- Outdoor shower area for volunteers $1300
- Convert existing building into an office for volunteers $1800
- Microbial mother culture ($60 per gallon) and Molasses ($4.50 per gallon) for the first months production. 20 gallon of EM 1 per week for first 2 weeks, 10 gallons per week for weeks 3 and 4 then 5 gallons per week for weeks 5-26 =
- 170 gallons mother culture @ $60 gallon $10,200
- 170 gallons Molasses @ $4.50 gallon $765
- Total $10,965
- Fuel to deliver microbial extension to the Solola treatment plant weekly $400
Total Costs of Project $US 29,974