Chilean lake dries up, killing all fish

Bones on the ground, animal news
Animal bones lie on the ground at Montenegro in Santiago, Chile April 21, 2022, credit: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

The Peñuelas Lake in central Chile has completely dried up after a historic 13-year drought. The dried and cracked earth that was once the lake bed is full of fish skeletons and desperate animals searching for water.

“Basically what we have is just a puddle of water, actually mud, and it is completely unusable,” Jose Luis Murillo, general manager at Valparaiso’s sanitary company, said. “This is especially significant if you think that several decades ago, the Penuelas reservoir was the only source of water for all greater Valparaiso.”

“Having animals at this moment is being in a very precarious situation. Completely precarious, the drought is bad,” animal farmer Segundo Aballay Araya said. “If it doesn’t rain this year, we will be left with nothing to do. There is no alternative because the animals are getting weaker and are dying every day.”

According to tree ring analyses going back 400 years, the current drought is extremely rare, said Duncan Christie, a researcher at the Center for Climate and Resilience in Chile. In terms of duration or intensity, it has never happened before.

He said that meant the Andes – which he called Chile’s “water towers” – were not getting a chance to replenish, which meant that there was far less water to fill rivers, reservoirs and lakes.

According to mathematical models and historic data, researchers at the University of Chile predict Chile will have 30% less water in 30 years. “What we call a drought today will become normal,” Miguel Lagos, a civil engineer and water specialist, said.

Lagos travelled to measure snow cover near the Laguna Negra station in central Chile. “There was just nothing,” he said. With warmer weather and less snowfall, top layers of snow were melting faster or turning straight to vapor,” Lagos said.

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