Massive march in Puerto Varas over contamination of Lake Llanquihue

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 Photo: Mónica CarrascoPhoto: Mónica Carrasco
By Cristóbal Pérez
About 2000 people protested in Puerto Varas on Saturday over continuing contamination of Lake Llanquihue. Despite a severe rainstorm, protestors marched to demand a definitive solution to the illegal discharges of sewage water into the lake, the second-largest lake in Chile, and uncontrolled development in the town.
The protestors, which included several local organizations and numerous families with their young children, met at 11 a.m. at the naval office along the waterfront. From there, they moved alongs the lake hoisting posters and flags and chanting non-stop till the reached the central square of the city, where they read a list of 20 demands, foremost a “request for emergency sanitary management of the lake due to contamination from untreated wastewater.”
Among the list of demands, the protestors called for: authorities and companies responsible for the problem to present a transparent study on sanitary issues, a short-and long-term technical solution to the issue that includes the community participating as part of a working group, immediate emergency measures to repair the damage already caused, and suspension of any expansion of Essal (the sanitary company in the Los Lagos region) services in the area until the problem is solved.
In addition to the lake contamination issues, they asked for "suspending authorizations of the extensive list of buildings planned for construction” so as to prevent excessive road traffic and a collapse in the structural capacity of this small southern Chilean city of about 40,000 people. Their petition also raises other pressing town concerns like the protection and restoration of ravines and urban wetlands, and the need for an integrated water resources management strategy for the entire Lake Llanquihue watershed.
Aerial photo showing contamination of Lake Llanquihue. Photo: N. HernandezAerial photo showing contamination of Lake Llanquihue. Photo: N. Hernandez
Last Friday, Puerto Varas's leaders and town councilmen moreover filed a lawsuit in Puerto Montt’s courts. "We have filed a lawsuit, for breach of the constitutional guarantee of living in a pollution-free environment, which is the result of negligence by two institutions, the Superintendent of Sanitary Services and the local naval office in Puerto Varas, who have not fulfilled their legal mandate to protect us from this situation happening at Lake Llanquihue,” attorney Andrea Rosmanich told Radio Bio Bio.
On the same day, the Puerto Varas tourism association convened a press conference about the conflict. The group says that five years ago it pressed regional and local government authorities to form a "sanitary roundtable" to avoid a sanitary collapse in the bay of Puerto Varas. Their pleas were evidently not heeded, said the tourism group. 
"The solution is to make an intervention about 4 meters above the lake level that intercepts all the waste water and moves it by gravity to the treatment plant," said Pablo Ortuzar, a member of the board of directors of the Puerto Varas tourism group. "That would alleviate the area most affected, which is the oldest part of the sewage system,” he said. 
For its part, the Senate Environment Commission is convening a special meeting on the issue, inviting the ministers of public works, environment and housing, among others, in order to speed the implementation of measures to address a problem that has gone viral nationwide in Chile with photos showing feces floating in the lake.


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