Lake Poopó, within the large Altiplano basin of Bolivia, is connected upstream to Lake Titicaca and downstream to the salares, the big salt fields. Small changes in precipitation and river inflows strongly affect the extent of the lake surface area. For times when there are no satellite images, it is difficult to determine the extent of the lake from observations. Water balance computations were performed to create a water-level series for Lake Poopó extending back in time. The dominant water inflow to Lake Poopó is from the River Desaguadero, which constitutes the outflow of Lake Titicaca. The water-balance computations confirm the crude peasant knowledge about historical lake status. It is found that if the lake level is less than 1 m during the wet season, there is a risk that this shallow lake dries out in the dry season.
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Acknowledgements This study was carried out within the framework of a collaborative research project between the Department of Water Resources Engineering, Lund University, Sweden and the Hydraulic and Hydrologic Institute (IHH) of San Andrés University, La Paz, Bolivia, financially supported by SIDA (Sweden). The authors are grateful to the Servicio Nacional de Hidrometeorología de Bolivia and to Proyecto Piloto Oruro for providing important data, and to all those who were involved in collecting and measuring hydrometeorological data in 2001– 2002. The comments from the anonymous reviewers contributed to a considerable improvement of the paper. Dr Cintia Uvo shared her knowledge about ENSO.