Applying Great Lakes Knowledge to Help Preserve Lake Titicaca

Indigenous communities still live on floating islands made of totora reed. The inhabitants of these islands are some of the most affected by declining water quality as the quality of reeds, health of wildlife and safety of drinking water is declining.

Left to Right: Andrew Griffin, US Embassy; Mauricio Rodriguez, Regional President of Puno; Mariano Castro, Vice Minister of Environment; Susan Hedman, EPA; Michael Goffin, Environment Canada; Simeon McKay, Embassy of Canada to Peru.

The experience of Canada and the United States managing the North American Great Lakes can help reverse the environmental damage being done to Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world. Lake Titicaca is shared between Peru and Bolivia.

In 2012, Peru’s Congress declared the environmental restoration and preservation of Lake Titicaca a public good and necessity. Sources of pollution vary and include mining practices without sufficient environmental protection measures, insufficient public investment in water and solid waste treatment facilities, lack of enforcement and low levels of awareness and effective access to information for the local population.
Michael Goffin, Regional Director General (Ontario) from Environment Canada and Susan Hedman, Administrator for Region 5 (including the Great Lakes) from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited Peru to share how the North American model for managing the Great Lakes could improve the water quality of Lake Titicaca.
Mr. Goffin and Ms. Hedman shared their perspectives as the chief negotiators for Canada and the USA as the two countries updated the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) in 2012. One possible model from the GLWQA that could help Lake Titicaca is the “Areas of Concern” methodology. This model guides countries in the joint identification of hot spots with high amounts of environmental degradation, but allows each side to solve problems and take action independently.

Peruvian participants in the workshop with Mr. Goffin and Ms. Hedman were interested in how different levels of government—including first nations groups—were involved, how scientific methodologies were standardised and how research is coordinated across borders.

A key message from the North American experience is that while binational cooperation is important to the management of shared waters, it starts with effective domestic coordination and action. Canada shared the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health as a potential model to achieve this.
Public participation, access to information and citizen engagement are also very important. In North America, this includes the triennial “State of the Lakes” conference and report, which brings together scientists and citizens concerned about the Great Lakes. It also includes the use of a limited number of indicators that help citizens know if they can use and enjoy the water where they live and know what is happening on "their" lake.