Titicaca, the Highest Navigable Lake in the World, Is Drying Up

“…until December the level of Lake Titicaca is expected to continue decreasing.”

Sixto Flores Sancho is the director of the National Meteorology and Hydrology Service of Peru – Senamhi in the Puno region. Sancho is a meteorological engineer, with a M.Sc in applied meteorology.

Emily Milagros Quispe Salazar is a hydrology analyst at Senamhi in the Puno region, an agricultural engineer, and a master in water resources engineering from the Universidad Nacional del Altiplano.

Sixto Flores Sancho,  director of Senamhi

AgriBrasilis – Why is Lake Titicaca drying up?

Sancho e Salazar – In the last 10 years, a smaller amount of rain has occurred in the Puno plateau region during rainy seasons, compared to the historical average. This worsened during the 2022/23 season (between August 2022 and March 2023), when there was a rainfall deficit of 49%. It is during this rainy season, which occurs between August and March, that the water resources of Lake Titicaca are “recharged”. Lake levels have been gradually decreasing over the years and this decrease was much greater during 2022/23.

Evaporation loss, which occurs as a result of the dry season (between April and December) reduces the height and surface of the lake. In 2022, the evaporation loss in the period was 0.99 m. Now, from April 2023 to the present, the drop has been 0.59 m, and until December the level of Lake Titicaca is expected to continue decreasing.

Emily Milagros Quispe Salazar,  hydrology analyst at Senamhi

AgriBrasilis – Is it possible to “save” Lake Titicaca? How much water has already been lost?

Sancho e Salazar – The issue is not “saving” the lake, but rather mitigating the effects that the drop in the level of Lake Titicaca could cause. Coordinated actions must be carried out between national and subnational institutions, technical-scientific entities, and citizens.

This is a period of maximum drought. If a completely opposite event occurred, it would even be possible to restore Lake Titicaca to its regular level, but first, we must talk about proactive actions considering this drought scenario, which is very common in the region. It is possible to face this extreme drought. We must remember that every year there is a significant period of rain, which must be taken advantage of.

In August, the average water level was 3,808.264 meters, compared to its historical normal level of 3,809.355 m. This means there was a fall of 1.09 m. In terms of volume, between August 2022 and August 2023, there was a loss of approximately 6,255 km3.

The lowest levels of the Lake ever recorded occurred between 1939 and 1949, i.e., during a period of drought that lasted approximately 10 years.

AgriBrasilis – Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. What is its socioeconomic importance and which communities are being affected by the drought?

Sancho e Salazar – This water resource directly influences any and all socioeconomic activities. Several slope rivers contribute to Lake Titicaca. The greater the contribution, the higher the lake level and the better the humidity conditions in the region. In a drought scenario, the greatest impact occurs on the needy population, who suffer from a lack of basic services.

AgriBrasilis – What were the agricultural losses due to drought in the 2022/23 harvest? What is expected for the 2023/24 harvest?

Sancho e Salazar – According to information from the Puno Regional Agrarian Directorate:

  • In February it was announced that, in the case of quinoa, losses of 65% of production were recorded, representing a total of 36,430 hectares.
  • By March 2023, it was announced that 240,000 farmers in the Puno region were affected by the water deficit.
  • In July 2023, the head of the regional agricultural directorate of Puno announced: “We had a loss of almost 73% of forage oats, (…). In the case of quinoa, the loss is 95%. In native potatoes, the loss was 75%.” The total drop in agricultural products reached 60%, which puts the 2023/24 harvest at risk.

AgriBrasilis – How has climate change affected Peru in recent decades?

Sancho e Salazar – In Peru, climate change is having significant impacts. Among the direct impacts, the change in global temperature stands out, which has increased rapidly since 1970, causing aridity in several regions.

Andean tropical glaciers in Peru, which represent 68.3% of this type of glaciers in the world, have shown an alarming decrease of 53.56% in the last five decades. This affects tourism and water supply, as these glaciers function as natural reservoirs. The reduction of these water resources, in addition to being able to result in water scarcity, affects activities such as agriculture and power generation.

The climatic phenomena La Niña and El Niño also play an important role. La Niña has caused cooling and record low temperatures in Peru’s mountains and forests, while El Niño can have the opposite effects.



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