There have been conflicting stories published recently concerning the safety and health of Lake Chapala, more specifically the Chapala- Ajijic area. One in particular gives a very negative view of our hometown. I do not know the motivation behind it, but I want to set the record straight.
Safety is a major concern of many older Americans and Canadians moving to lakeside. After living here for 11 years, I can honestly say that for a foreigner living along the shore of Lake Chapala you are much safer here than if you were living in any mid-size to large city in the U.S. or Canada.
That being said, anyone can be at risk by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, no matter where you live. What was it that our parents told us when we learned to drive? “Drive defensively”. No matter where you live, you need to live your life defensively and not recklessly. Almost all violence in this area – and throughout Mexico – is primarily drug-related. Bad guy on bad guy. It seldom affects foreigners, unless of course you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that can happen to anyone, anywhere. I personally have not heard of any incident of “collateral damage” to a foreigner.
As for health-related issues in the Lake Chapala-area, the past few weeks have seen an increase in forest fires on the mountain separating Ajijic from Ixtlahuacan. The fires apparently started on the Ixtlahuacan side of the mountain and traveled up the mountain and then down the Ajijic side. Many firefighters and a helicopter with a large bucket have been working to control the blaze. The helicopter has made hundreds of trips from the lake to the fire over the past two weeks. All seems to be under control, but we have at least five more weeks of “hot” weather before the rainy season starts. We could expect more fires and unhealthy smoke before then.
After the last rainy season, the Lake Chapala water level was at its highest point in over twenty years, almost 90 percent full. It has dropped about 30 inches, but we are expecting another good rainy season starting mid-June, so we should be in great shape for the coming year.
You should know, though, that the water of Lake Chapala was rated medium quality in a study prepared by experts in Mexico and presented at the XVI World Water Congress in Cancún in 2017.
What does this mean for those who may want to fish in the lake or swim?
You may know that virtually all fish consumed today contain some level of mercury, and some studies even suggest that eating fish should be avoided all together. A U.S. government-sponsored study noted that mercury levels found in fish caught in Lake Chapala are similar to those found in other locations throughout the world. Fish is consumed everywhere and has many health benefits, so if you want to eat fish from the lake, just be careful.
Finally, for those who love swimming, another word of caution about the lake. Boating is enjoyed by many, but swimming probably is not a good idea. It could be made safer again with sufficient efforts on the part of government, industry and agriculture, but it’s not there yet.
My thanks to Dr. Tom Strong, a long-time resident of Ajijic and a staunch supporter of our community and its environment, for some of this blog’s information.