Chilean lake disappears from the map

Above: An abandoned boat at the dried-up Lake Aculeo in Paine, about 70km south-west of Santiago, Chile, earlier this month. The lake, which was for decades a major tourist attraction, has disappeared due to a drought and an over-consumption of water
Above: An abandoned boat at the dried-up Lake Aculeo in Paine, about 70km south-west of Santiago, Chile, earlier this month. The lake, which was for decades a major tourist attraction, has disappeared due to a drought and an over-consumption of water. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Above: An abandoned boat at the dried-up Lake Aculeo in Paine, about 70km south-west of Santiago, Chile, earlier this month. The lake, which was for decades a major tourist attraction, has disappeared due to a drought and an over-consumption of water
Above: An earlier photo of the lake taken on Jan 1, 2013.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PAINE (Chile) • The cows and horses would have come for the last blades of grass.

Now, their bones are scattered on the cracked earth, victims of a drought that wiped Santiago's weekend playground Lake Aculeo from the map.

Lake Aculeo's demise is so sudden and complete that it seems as if someone had pulled a giant plug and let all the water out.

So sudden was it that as recently as 2011, the 12 sq km lagoon was a thriving weekend getaway for people from the Chilean capital an hour away.

Thousands came here to swim, water-ski, sail or simply cool off in the long austral summer. They camped along its shores and lined up for tables at busy lakeside restaurants.

Now, water and cooling summers on Lake Aculeo are a fast receding memory.

"We have been suffering drought for 10 years, and now the lake has disappeared, with tourism, camping, business, everything," campsite employee Marcos Contreras lamented.

 

Wooden jetties now poke out grotesquely over the flat plain of the lake bed. Canoes and speedboats gather dust on the former lake shore.

A giant sign on the approach shows the lake as it was - stark blue against the backdrop of the towering Andes - saying, "Help us to protect the lagoon".

Once boasting a depth of 6m, the water level began to fall from 2011. By last May, the lake had dried out completely.

There is no single explanation, although climate change is a key factor. Locals and experts point to a drastic decrease in rainfall. But agricultural practices requiring vast amounts of water and lakeside development are also factors.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Chilean lake disappears from the map'. Print Edition | Subscribe