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Lake Chapala Water Levels, her history and the Latest News

Lake Chapala is about 50 miles (75 kilometers) long and 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) wide and is the largest inland body of water in Mexico as well as the third largest in Latin America. It is located 42 km south of the metropolitan area of Guadalajara.

Map of Communities around Lake Chapala

A question of concern we would frequently get in the past was regarding Lake Chapala water levels. This used to be a big issue back in 2001 and 2002 when the water was at a critical level. Since then we have had a dramatic recovery over the past seven years with abundant rainy seasons. 2008 saw levels not seen in Lake Chapala for the past 30 years! This is a cause for celebration here! The lake contributes to the climate being moderate, tropical and sub-humid with a single summer season.

Lake Chapala is a basin lake and in the past, depended primarily on rain runoff. The water from the lake has also been used to supply Guadalajara with a significant amount of water. The Arcediano dam that is slated to be built in Guadalajara will then supply that city with water, which will help keep Lake Chapala water levels higher.

New dams and conservation programs enusre the future of Lake Chapala water levels

A lot of water coming down from the Lerma River has been wasted with poor agricultural use before ever reaching Lake Chapala. It is a big step getting the five states surrounding the lake to agree on reforestation, soil conservation and clean water programs as well Lake Chapala now being entitled to a certain share of the water coming in from the Lerma each rainy season. That coupled with the dam in Guadalajara which will allow the city of over five million people to become more self sufficient, is good news for our Lake Chapala.

In the last few years there has been increased public awareness, putting pressure on the government to keep their promises.


In 2011 the Pan American Games are slated to be held in Guadalajara which will give a lot of exposure to  Lake Chapala.

But in the meantime, nature provides its own water sports and fishing:

Lake Chapala water levels - Pelicans fishing in Lake Chapal

A short drive around the south of the lake and you'll find yourself in the most magical spot feeding a thousand pelicans who fly down to Lake Chapala each winter from Canada. Around mid-April they take to the skies and head home on the long journey north, arriving in June. Truly a natural wonder to enjoy an afternoon feeding the pelicans in Lake Chapala.


Lake Chapala tests safe for wading and aquatic sports.

Story by: DALE HOYT PALFREY, Guadalajara Reporter
Lake Chapala water testing

Recent water quality testing data indicates that Chapala’s now pristine beach area perfectly meets criteria for development of a safe zone for aquatic sports and recreation.

Contrary to a common notion that Lake Chapala contains some sort of toxic cocktail, results from recent water quality tests indicate that the level of its bacterial contamination is low enough to permit safe aquatic recreational activities.

“Chapala’s water is three to four times cleaner than that found on California’s beaches,” reports Todd Stong, the U.S. civil engineer who has led an independently- funded testing project over the last seven weeks. “The lake may look muddy, but it is biologically clean.”

Water samples were collected at several points along the north, west and south shores of Lake Chapala between San Nicolas and San Pedro Tesistan. Laboratory analyses were then performed by qualified professionals at the CETAC technological institution in Jocotepec. Standard methodology was followed to collect and examine the samples for fecal coliform bacteria.

Lab reports revealed that 94 percent of the sites tested had amounts of fecal coliform colonies falling below acceptable limits established under Mexican, U.S. and international standards for the recreational use of water bodies.

Mexico’s official norm, NOM-AA-042, is set to a limit of 240 colony units per 100 millimeters. Only one of 16 test sites – at the end of the San Pedro jetty – measured slightly above that range, at 290/100ml. Water drawn at the mouth of the Arroyo San Marcos, near Chapala’s old railway station, came close to the mark at 230/100ml. The remaining 14 tested well below the limit, from under 30 to 91 units.

The findings were released at a press conference Thursday, March 13 at Chapala’s newly refurbished Malecon. Stong, who has lent his services to local governments free of charge for the past six years, was accompanied at the podium by Chapala Mayor Gerardo Degollado, CETAC professor and laboratory chief Luz Elena Tolentino and Manuel Guzman Arroyo, director of the University of Guadalajara’s Limnology Institute based in Ajijic.

“This is great news for lake lovers that should help dispel what seems to be a widespread misconception of Lake Chapala’s water quality conditions,” Stong said. “We hope this will serve as an impetus to local municipalities to continue testing programs and take steps to make area beaches attractive and inviting to local people as well as visitors.”

The favorable figures and observations suggest that beach areas situated at the foot of Ajijic’s Calle Donato Guerra and along Chapala’s waterfront are the most apt for development as public swimming locations. A number of other points have similar potential, but will require removal of hazardous debris and some reconditioning to make them ideal.

Addressing concerns about possible heavy metal contamination in Lake Chapala, Guzman Arroyo commented that most dangerous source would be viscera of some fish species that are normally discarded prior to human consumption. “Breathing the Guadalajara metro zone’s foul air is far more damaging that eating charales all year long,” he concluded.

“It is important to correct rumors that the lake is severely polluted. It’s a lie,” the mayor stressed. He closed the press event with an earnest pledge to pursue further testing and transform various lake front sites into idyllic recreational tourist zones before his term of office ends.

Anyone interested in reviewing the full water quality testing report may contact Azucena Bateman, telephone 766-4249 or email


Watch a short video

Dr. Todd Stong, an engineer, now in his sixty year of volunteer consulting with local government around Lake Chapala, Mexico. The quality of the lake has improved in recent years, as the lake has become fuller:


The Best News Ever About Lake Chapala

By Judy King, Mexico Insights

October marks the end of Lakeside's annual rainy season and what a difference a few years make. In October of 2003 we wondered if the remaining water in Lake Chapala would last through the next two or three dry seasons.

Those fears are a moot point this fall—in mid-September the lake reached its highest level in three decades. More than that, the lake now stands 18 centimetres (9") above the 1979 high mark.

It's been a perfect summer rainy season—every time we head out to run errands or just for an evening drive, we see views of the lake that take our breath away. We're seeing waves, white caps, and water deep enough to cover the trees that were planted ten years ago on the dry lake bed—a mile from the water's edge.

Mother Nature does a marvelous job of balancing things out—when we get out of the way. This time it's been a combination of several very good rainy seasons and the release of water from the Rio Lerma. There are several reservoirs along the river as it wends it's way from near Mexico City to Chapala, and until each of those artificially created lakes filled with water (and each holds as much as Lake Chapala) the water coming from the river was often barely more than a trickle.

Now with the reservoirs all filled to the brim, water is gushing into the lake and even has wrecked havoc with the plans the local government had for creating new malecón areas along the lake in Ajijic and San Antonio…both proposed areas are now underwater!


Physical Dimensions

Surface area [km2]   1,112
Volume [km3]  7.9
Maximum depth [m]  10.5
Mean depth [m]  7.2
Water level  Regulated
Normal range of annual water level fluctuation [m]  1.2
Length of shoreline [km]  215
Residence time [yr]  10.2
Catchment area [km2]  52,500

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