Community exposure and vulnerability to water quality and availability: a case study in the mining-affected Pazña Municipality, Lake Poopó Basin, Bolivian Altiplano

Megan French, Natalie Alem, Stephen J. Edwards, Efraín Blanco Coariti, Helga Cauthin, Karen A. Hudson-Edwards, Karen Luyckx, Jorge Quintanilla, Oscar Sánchez Miranda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Assessing water sources for drinking and irrigation along with community vulnerability, especially in developing and rural regions, is important for reducing risk posed by poor water quality and limited water availability and accessibility. We present a case study of rural mining-agricultural communities in the Lake Poopó Basin, one of the poorest regions on the Bolivian Altiplano. Here, relatively low rainfall, high evaporation, salinization and unregulated mining activity have contributed to environmental degradation and water issues, which is a situation facing many Altiplano communities. Social data from 72 households and chemical water quality data from 27 surface water and groundwater sites obtained between August 2013 and July 2014 were used to develop locally relevant vulnerability assessment methodologies and ratings with respect to water availability and quality, and Chemical Water Quality Hazard Ratings to assess water quality status. Levels of natural and mining-related contamination in many waters (CWQHR ≥ 6; 78% of assessed sites) mean that effective remediation would be challenging and require substantial investment. Although waters of fair to good chemical quality (CWQHR ≤ 5; 22% of assessed sites) do exist, treatment may still be required depending on use, and access issues remain problematic. There is a need to comply with water quality legislation, improve and maintain basic water supply and storage infrastructure, build and operate water and wastewater treatment plants, and adequately and safely contain and treat mine waste. This study serves as a framework that could be used elsewhere for assessing and mitigating water contamination and availability affecting vulnerable populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-573
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by the University College London (UCL) Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) under the initiative of water risk and its management in Bolivia’s Altiplano development strategy, which was led by Stephen Edwards. The Natural Environment Research Council Probability, Uncertainty and Risk in the Environment grant PA13-010 (risk visualisation and quantification for enhanced disaster risk reduction) to Stephen Edwards informed the approach to and outputs from the project. Help and support were provided by the CAFOD office in Bolivia, especially through Marcella Vallejos, Jennifer Hadley and María del Carmen López. Special thanks are due to Gary Tarbuck (UCL-Birkbeck Wolfson Laboratory, UK) for laboratory analyses, Israel Quino Lima (Universidad Mayor San Andrés, Bolivia) for assistance with field sampling and Franklin Mujica Quispe (SENAMHI, Bolivia) for river gauging. A very special acknowledgement is given to the communities in the Pazña Municipality that participated in the project. The helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers helped improve the paper. The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, The Author(s).


  • Bolivian Altiplano
  • Mining
  • Vulnerability
  • Water quality
  • Water resources management
  • Water scarcity


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