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Bioremediation is the process of using beneficial microorganisms to restore environments to health in situations where humans or environmental catastrophes have caused a degradation of the environment. The beneficial bacteria out-compete bad bacteria and pathogens and digest contaminants. In a healthy ecosystem, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms are constantly at work breaking down organic matter and keeping the ecosystem balanced and healthy.

Bioremediation offers proven, natural, and feasible solutions to Lake Atitlán’s problems of untreated sewage, putrefactive bacteria inflows, nutrient overloading, and chemically damaged soil. Beneficial microorganisms have been used worldwide to treat wastewater and remediate damaged soils for decades.

Bioremediation uses naturally occurring effective microorganisms (EM) to solve an environmental problem such as contaminated soil or water. In a non-polluted environment, bacteria, fungi, protists, and other microorganisms are constantly at work breaking down organic matter and keeping the ecosystem balanced and healthy. When an ecosystem is heavily and consistently contaminated, these beneficial organisms can’t survive the onslaught and die off.

Bioremediation has been used all over the world with great success.

 Please take a few minutes to watch this video about EM. It says it all. 15 minutes well spent!

Here is a UNICEF study that shows how effective EM is, and another study showing almost complete eradication of e-coli in a lake in Los Angeles. Here’s a playlist of 7 videos that explain how EM was used to remediate the Seto Inland Sea in Japan.

Wastewater Treatment

None of the wastewater treatment facilities serving Lake Atitlán come even close to properly treating sewage. Beneficial microorganisms are used worldwide in sewage treatment plants to speed up and increase the effectiveness of their processes and greatly reduce their outflow parameters — reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended solids, and drastically reducing sludge and coliforms such as e-coli.

As a first step towards introducing EM at all Lake Atitlán wastewater treatment facilities, LAEIG will be conducting a 6-month pilot project with AMSCLAE (the authority in charge of policing the wastewater treatment plants in the Lake Atitlan watershed) at San Bartolo. The outflow from this plant contains over 1100 times the accepted level of coliforms (such as e-coli) and is being used for direct irrigation onto human food crops.

Using EM to treat the wastewater in the San Bartolo wastewater plant will both significantly reduce pathogen exposure by the local farmers and increase the yields of their crops, resulting in a huge benefit for the local population of indigenous farmers.

LAEIG will also provide beneficial microorganisms from the production facility at low cost to hotels and businesses around the lake.

Transition from Chemical to Organic Farming

Beneficial microorganisms are also used worldwide to remediate damaged soils. The land around lake Atitlán has been so damaged by chemical fertilizer use that the majority of the land can no longer support agriculture without the use of chemical fertilizers or a complete remediation. Repopulating the beneficial microorganisms in the soil is the fastest and most effective way to remediate damaged soils to transition to sustainable organic farming practices and is used worldwide to do so.

LAEIG proposes to immediately address the main problem of chemical contamination — non-organic coffee farming — by providing needed equipment to the 175-member organic coffee farming cooperative, Cafe Maya Chacaya Atitlán (APROCAMCA), so they can transition another 217 farmers to organic coffee growing. We will also help the cooperative to greatly improve the quality of its compost through addition of EM and hydrilla (an invasive plant harvested from the lake by volunteers), resulting in higher yields and higher-value products.