Drought claims two major high-altitude ponds in Huehuetenango

A third consecutive year of drought in the Guatemalan highlands is wreaking familiar economic and ecological havoc. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Huehuetenango’s Cuchumatanes Mountains, the dramatic high-altitude pond called Laguna Magdalena, is now dry. A community tourism project rents cabañas close to the scenic pond, known for its blue-green waters and pristine mountain setting. The small mountain streams that feed the pond no longer run as they did even as recently as several months ago.

Inappropriate water use could also have played a role in Laguna Magdalena’s condition, as communities down the mountain pipe water from the pond. They have been doing this for years, however, and never before has it resulted in a dry lake-bed.

The second dried pond, Laguna Ordóñez, lies at over 3,000 meters above sea level in an area that has seen its annual precipitation fall from 800 millimeters per year to 700 over the last decade. The dry lake is likely to affect many plant and animal species, especially birds, salamanders, and fox.

Herman Ochoa, a representative of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in Huehuetenango, said recently that he expects the situation to worsen faster and faster over the next ten years, as temperatures rise and rainfall becomes less frequent and more intense.

In the area of both ponds, Maya mam communities in remote mountain villages earn the major portion of their living by grazing sheep. Drought is increasingly putting their traditional lifestyle in jeopardy.

The region is already known for high rates of migration to the United States.