Pressure on water resources

Water is primarily used for domestic purposes and small-scale irrigation in Guatemala, while in Mexico, 54% of surface water is used for irrigation, 26% for human consumption and 10% for agribusiness. Coffee production and export plays an essential part in the livelihoods strategies of communities. In the middle and lower parts of the catchment, water scarcity in the dry season is problematic for agricultural production, affecting community income generation as coffee production depends on water for processing coffee beans.

Environmental degradation: deforestation and pollution

Marginalized farmers have been forced to higher altitudes on the volcano and have cleared forests to make way for small farms. In the low and middle parts of the catchment, sugarcane, coffee, African palm and banana industries pollute the water and larger-scale farming has degraded the land. Unregulated land use change has been especially damaging on steep hillsides and deforestation has reduced the capacity of the soils to retain water. The resulting erosion has strongly increased the risk of floods and mudslides.

Weak institutions and social challenges

Governmental authority is dispersed with little connection between local and national levels. This has led to weak institutional presence, inadequate laws and regulations, budgetary constraints, lack of technical coordination and mutual support among institutions, the absence of integrated policies, and limited stakeholder participation and transparency. Historically, there has been no coordination of basin management between Mexico and Guatemala for the Coatán and Suchiate rivers. However, in Mexico, the new water law states that local Water Councils are responsible for implementation of the law and policies on water resources. However, while the conceptual framework was in place, the Water Councils lacked the capacity to carry out these activities. Furthermore, in parts of the basin the marginalization of indigenous peoples, high illiteracy and mortality rates, very high population growth, and a complex land tenure rights system are also major challenges. (IUCN 2012)