Atitlan: a case study for lakeside remediation and economic growth

I recently moved to Lake Atitlan, and was sitting yesterday on a dock in the rain when I saw some boys pulling up a plant called 'Hydrilla'.

hyacinthHydrilla is considered an invasive weed. It gets pulled up by folks here, especially around the lake docks, and thrown into the jungle forests).

It turns out that Hydrilla is a somewhat oily plant that, when mixed with a bit of animal manure, can be placed in a low cost (and homemade) 'biodigester' which turns the concoction into methane and wonderful natural compost/fertilizer ammendment for gardens.

I also notice Hyacinth growing in areas. Hyacinth is also an invasive weed which, even more so than the Hydrilla, produces a large amount of methane gas when bio-digested. The great thing about Hyacinth is that it is a great bio-remediator because of it's thick root system that harbors a great deal of live bacterial activity.- and so is often used to quickly digest waste in water. So for example, if having to choose between simply a) pulling hyacinth from the water or b) 'managing it' so that it can help clean the water but does not get overgrown, managing it is generally considered the most ideal.

Long story short, locals are throwing a material into the forest that they could be using to help feed their families.

How does it work?

(choose any and/or combinations of all)

option 1)

Let us imagine that a pilot biodigester system is built (less than $500) that is capable of digesting these resources (Hydrilla and Hyacinth) from a region of the lake. We prime it and perfect it (ei: figure out how much of what types of waste make it work best). The family/village managing the digester and the harvesting of the lake resources would then have enough methane to cook and possible warm water, as well as a free source of potent fertilizer. One system and we have helped one community in a significant way.

option 2)

Create a how-to with references (and pictures of) specific materials available at local hardware storefronts, and specific documentation (2-3 languages, pictures) for assembling these units. This might create one or two additional units, and a loosely organized system of groups exchanging ideas.

option 3)

Now let us say that we want to look at this idea at a slightly larger scale potentially spreading lake-wide, and create an economic engine.

An organization is created to 'Manage Lakeside Ecology' that overlooks:

a) harvesting and management of hydrilla and hyacinth (and remediation of lakeside) focussing on private and city docks and charges a small 'utility' for the service to all benefactors for this service.

b) the creation of a larger scale (or many similarly scaled) biodigesters are with local people who are payed or who benefit by manging it. They harvest the compost slurry and apply it directly to their fields and harvest the gas/methane and use it either to heat food and water or also to dry the compost slurry for bagging and distribution ($/Q) as 'natural fertilizer'.

c) Now let's say we also get the different sponsoring municipalities to (in addition to paying a small fee for dock cleanup in their municipality) pay for marketing (signage, logos, etc.) of this as a project so that people around the lake know who is doing the work (t-shirts) and also what municipality is awesome because they are actively working to improve everyone's quality of life (in a very public way).

d) And then, of course, it would be great to have a sponsoring non-profit to work with. If you are a managing entity at a non-profit organization, I'm hoping this is a great fit for your work. At this stage it's all an idea, and there is still a great deal of research I would need to make about better ways that it might integrate naturally into the community. I am open to your ideas, and welcome your participation in this project as it develops, and would love to hear your thoughts about how that might best look for you.

I have a portfolio of similar ideas here, if you are interested.

Looking forward to hearing back!