Waste water treatment strategy needed for Cyanobacteria Bloom in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

By: Guest Contributor, Sherm Davis


Panajachel, Guatemala – On 3 August 2015, a cyanobacteria bloom invaded Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the first such occurrence since 2009. An infestation of microalgae is considered a bloom when the concentration reaches 2 million parts per liter, and the tests run by the organizations mentioned below prove beyond a doubt that this is a bloom unprecedented in modern history. The question at hand is: What can we do about it?

A series of water samples taken by the Watershed Authority (AMSCLAE) in association with The University del Valle de Guatemala (Altiplano Campus) revealed that there are five major types of phytoplankton in the water, and that three of these (Dolichospermum,Limnoraphis, Microcystis) are classified as cyanobacteria.

The eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients) of the lake is the main cause of this bloom, and if left unchecked, cyanobacteria (in this case Microcystis specifically) will cause the toxification of the lake and make it unsuitable for human use. This has already happened at neighboring Lake Amatitlán, and to lose a national treasure due to ignorance or political incompetence is unconscionable. These nutrients, of course, come in the form of waste water entering the lake untreated, as well as the inappropriate use of industrial fertilizers which then enter the water supply. Therefore, waste management and water treatment are two of the most important issues  facing the 15 municipalities in the Lake Atitlán basin.

But in an underdeveloped country like Guatemala, where according to Ana Lena Katt, Director of Social Communications at AMSCLAE, there are only waste water treatment plants at 11 of the 15 pueblos in the Atitlán basin, there are both practical and political hurdles to full implementation of a comprehensive water treatment plan for Lake Atitlán.

According to Ivan Azurdia, scientist and Executive Director of AMSCLAE, the funds have existed for seven years to upgrade the entire waste water treatment system and water supply in the Atitlán basin. “Working through the United Nations and the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank), Spain has given Guatemala a donation of US $50 million, matched with another US $50 million in the form of an IDB loan.” Within the $50 million that was given as a donation, a portion was allocated for technical assistance. “The terms of reference exist to develop the master plan,” says Azurdia. “It is ready for implementation.”

There are three organizations that must work in harmony in order for this plan to work. “The IDB signs the checks, INFOM (Instituto de Fomento Municipal, a governmental body on the national level) will provide field supervision during construction of the project, and UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) then manages the project, including procurement of subcontractors, bidding, and proposals. “UNOPS was brought on board to minimize corruption,” says Azurdia. “But time is running out.  For seven years and two administrations, the process had been held back by bureaucratic red tape.”

But finally, on 18 August 2015, bowing to public pressure, INFOM signed the document that will free the funds for implementation of the master plan. Now the race against time has begun. “After all these years of waiting, we have only four months to allocate the funding,” says Azurdia. “After 31 December 2015, the seven-year window for allocation of the funding will close. So although there’s still a lot of work to be done, the funds have finally been released, and we can finally do our job.”

So the first hurdle has been surmounted – the proper official finally released the funding to clean up the lake after the extended bureaucratic idling of two administrations. Now, only four months remain to allocate the funding and begin executing the master plan. Azurdia and his colleagues have been waiting for this day for seven long years. Now, the real work begins to implement a long-term strategy to save Lake Atitlán, one of the world´s natural treasures.


Sherm Davis is a writer, musician, and international educator currently living by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. His self-help novel, entitled Learning to Stutter, is now available online.

Image credit: Sherm Davis

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Initiating Sustainability In Your Community

By: Guest Contributor, Jona Jone

No one really opposes green living and its benefits. Everyone knows it is a good thing, necessary, and urgent. It’s just that not everyone is willing to give it a try. Living a “green” life is like eating vegetables. Everyone knows it’s good but only a few actually eat it.

Sustainability is a great thing. It takes commitment and sense of obligation to the world and future generations to instill such lifestyle on ourselves and our own families. Imagine the challenge of building a sustainable community and warding off all pessimism and indifference. Yes, there are more and more urban developments that seek to address all these environmental issues by carrying out more sustainable designs. And yes, you and your family are also trying to live greener. But efforts should not stop there. A UNESCO module stated that sustainability is to be attained at the local level and the community if it were to really make a difference. This is the kind of community that thrives from generation to generation because it adapts to change, performs life sustaining functions, respects diversity, and recognizes social and ecological limits.

If awareness is any indication, then we are on the right track. People now are more aware than ever on the state of the environment and our ecological systems. People recognize the importance of sustainability and some even understand the impacts of living in an unsustained one. Even 73% of companies have made sustainability a top agenda. Now, let’s look at your community. How far are they willing to go? And what does it take to take them there?


Tell Them Stories


Photo by HND via Pixabay

Al Gore’s “The Inconvenient Truth” was a big move towards the right direction. Somehow, it brought environmental challenges to the mainstream. But it takes more than just one Hollywood documentary to convince people that green is good and furthermore, within reach.

Be your community’s own Al Gore by starting discussions and engaging community members on environmental issues. Inspiring lifestyle change isn’t easy and calling them to action is much harder. Begin with small talk and stories. Every time you have the chance to talk to someone in your community, motivate them to live a more sustainable life. Share how sustainable living has made wonders for you and your family. Don’t be technical about it. Hit them where it matters like health and savings. For example, share the benefits of making your kids eat fresh product from the market or the savings from going solar with your outdoor lights.


Build A Green Community… Online

Blogs, videos, and images are very easily consumed through social media. You may create a website or a social media page that seeks to educate people about environmental issues. Add and engage members of your community. This is a modern way to reach out about an age-old problem. Share interesting blogs and videos that members will find worth sharing. You can also host discussions there and encourage them to ask questions and make suggestions. Avoid sounding like a robot or a know-it all genius as that will only annoy your audience. You have to come off as friendly and positive. The content of your messages must be emotional, direct, and relevant to the lives of the people you wish to touch.


Start A “Green” Market

2Photo by perla123 via Pixabay

Whether you are living in a traditional neighborhood or a resident in vertical living conditions, you can start your own “green” market. In your yard or porch, offer local products to your neighbors. If you live in a condo, you can go door to door and offer your goods. It would be nice if you could sneak in a small sheet of paper in the box or bag letting your neighbors know of the benefits of their purchase. Not only do you encourage a healthy lifestyle, you also make friends with the members of your community.


Start A Bicycle Club


Photo by Unsplash via Pixabay

You and your neighbors probably take the same route to work. People living in condominiums also usually work in the same business district as their next-door neighbor. Why not convince them to park their cars and ride their bicycles? Biking is a hot thing right now. Sell the idea of biking as a cool, cost-efficient, and healthy alternative. If you can put up a club, then biking becomes more of an activity you can do with friends more than a responsibility to mother earth.


Buy Local


Photo by Stokpic via Pixabay

Invite friends in your community to visit a local market. Show them how convenient it is to go there and how local farmers and producers benefit from each purchase. In short, make them feel good about going there. Tell them how buying local helps the environment and the community — less fuel for shipping, products are fresh and organic, more jobs, and good business for local farmers, producers and small-time manufacturers.


Teach Them To recycle

Recycling comes off as an activity that requires too much time and too much effort. That could be true in some recycle projects but while it is too much work, it is also too much fun. Invite a few neighbors in your home for some snacks and show them recycled stuff in your home. If you are into recycling yourself, show them an unfinished project and impress them with your creativity. Show them what you can do with an empty bottle, your kid’s old work books, your husband’s old ties, etc. Show them that they can do it too.


Organize Nature-Tripping


Photo by Stocksnap via Pixabay

It is easier to convince your community to go green if they can see what they are bound to lose if they don’t take action now. Organize a few of your neighbors and their families and take them nature-tripping. An environment friendly community is one that understands and appreciates nature in such a way that they are duty-bound to protect it.

The idea of caring for the environment and going for sustainable living doesn’t have to be forced. It just needs to matter to everyday life. You can’t talk about carbon footprints, glaciers, weather disturbances, depleting rainforests, and damaged ecosystems like you are a science professor and expect people to take action. Apply sustainability in the context of their lives. Give them something they can’t resist and before you know it, you are living in a sustainable community that feels responsible for the future generations.

Jona Jone was a mortgage originator in Philadelphia, PA and is now a Business and Property Specialist. She writes about real estate investment, business, parenting and living. Follow Jona on Twitter

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Are You Smarter Than a Reptile?

By: Guest Contributor, William B. Miller, Jr. M.D.


Are you smarter than a reptile?  In many respects, you certainly are. After all, no reptile is going to read this article. However, our clearly superior intellectual abilities for certain skills has seduced us towards a dismissive attitude towards the surprisingly deep and broad range of analytical gifts of our companion creatures. A growing body of research now indicates that other animals of all sizes and varieties are highly intelligent problem solvers within their own realms. After all, their cognitive skills have enabled them to successfully survive for eons and that may not necessarily prove to be true of we humans.

Cshutterstock_260232848onsider termites. They are strikingly social animals and have constructed elaborate societies for 200 million years. They engage in a primitive sort of agriculture, farming varieties of fungus for food. As individuals, they demonstrate remarkable intelligence and an even more surprising group intelligence that enables complicated feats of soil engineering in a diverse range of environments. Within their complex societal structure, termites divide labor between varied types of specialized workers, for example, infant care, manual labor, reproduction or soldiers for the defense of the colony. All of this proceeds via highly evolved and complex patterns of communication and signaling.

shutterstock_269700524Individual bees are intelligent and can even solve problems that are mathematically based. For example, they effectively decide the Traveling Salesman dilemma of optimizing the most efficient route to visit large numbers of locations in a single day. Bees communicate in a rich symbolic non-verbal language that enables them to transmit abstract concepts to others such as the location of particular flowers over large distances based on angles of the sun. They even seem to understand some rudimentary concepts of medical care utilizing medications within their hives. For example, honeybees colonies have been demonstrated to self medicate with plant resin to combat fungal infections.

Whshutterstock_177051125at about ants. They’re no slouches. They can navigate long distances to find food and can communicate its location to others with facility. As individuals, they can seek family members, memorize multiple alternate locations and can integrate a large number sources of information. They are even altruistic and will help other ants in distress.

 Modern research is teaching that intelligence is not directly linked to brain volume. All sizes can be demonstrate high intelligence.

Birds have small brains but are terrific problem solvers. They are highly cooperative and exhibit a wide range of highly intelligent behaviors. For example, they useshutterstock_129934394 vocal learning. Their songs are a complex language. Did you realize that they give lifelong names to their young? They are even known to mourn the loss of others. Birds also have a gyroscopic sense of geography and can store seeds in thousands of places that they can remember. Can we do that?
Perhaps you suppose that only humans are capable of understanding analogies. However, crows can use analogies to solve higher order tasks. They understand sharing, can use rudimentary arithmetic and can invent meanings for words. Cockatoos can solve puzzles with at least 5 steps. They can even keep time to music.

shutterstock_90963653Might fish be intellectually impaired? In fact, fish lead complex social lives and are highly intelligent. In a comparison of the intellectual capacity of primates and fish, who do you think should win? In a food test comparing fish with monkeys, chimpanzees and orangutans, it was the fish that proved more adept at learning the advantages of certain patterns of food choices and were faster at it.  And individual fish have personalities. Timid ones stay timid and aggressive ones remain bold. They also demonstrate individually distinguishable levels of curiosity and social ability. Fish can play, have excellent memories and perform complex courtship rituals. And Tusk fish even use tools to open shells for food, an act of intellect, which used to be considered as exclusive to humans but is now known to be widely distributed among species.

Certainly then, we must be much smarter than microbes. However, if intelligence is construed as using information to solve problems to successfully reproduce and survive in hostile environments, then they might be considered among the most intelligent. Some bacterial strains and even some viruses have survived essentially unchanged in any significant manner for hundreds of millions of years, in part this by using elaborate signaling patterns for communication among themselves and others.

So what might we make of this widely distributed world wide intelligence than had been previously understood?

  • Our intelligence might be of a unique kind, but it is not the only intelligence of consequence on this planet. Ours is just different and suited to the types of problems that we need to solve.
  • We have vastly underestimated the intelligence, feelings and complexity of the inner lives of our companion creatures on this planet. The implications are profound for our relationship towards them and our stewardship of the planet we share.
  • The ubiquity of refined intelligence requires a thorough re-examination of our evolutionary narrative. Intelligence exists at every scope, and scale underscores every aspect of evolutionary development.
  • This emerging understanding teaches us that all cognitive ability starts at the cellular level. All complex creatures must in turn be viewed as integrated collections of intelligent cells, vast collaboratives of cellular intelligence – we in our human package, and they in theirs.

While our form of collective intelligence may be privileged compared to others, it is not different in its essence. As a species, we would do well to grasp this vital truth.

Dr. Bill Miller has been a physician in academic and private practice for over 30 years. He is the author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome. He currently serves as a scientific advisor to OmniBiome Therapeutics, a pioneering company in discovering and developing solutions to problems in human fertility and health through management of the human microbiome. For more information, www.themicrocosmwithin.com.

 Lizardtermitebeeantcockatoo, and fish image images via Shutterstock.

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