Lago Enriquillo Redux

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

le_expanding_smIn previous episodes:  In January of 2014, the NY Times published an article “Rising Tide Is a Mystery That Sinks Island Hopes” by  Randal C. Archibold, in which the waters of Lago Enriquillo, in the southwest corner of the Dominican Republic, were claimed to be rising and flooding farms and towns there due to climate change.   I responded with an essay here “NYT Pushes the Rising Tide of Climate Nonsense – This time in the Dominican Republic” and followed up 14 months later with “Lago Enriquillo Revisted”, which ended with this promise: “It will be interesting to see how the lake fares over the next couple of years. I’ll try to write an update next year.”

Lago Enriquillo is a hyper-saline lake in the southwest corner of the Dominican Republic (DR), on the island of Hispaniola, in the northern Caribbean.    Its surface is about 145 meters below sea level, covering part of the floor of a rift valley, in an arid region complete with cactus which to me looks like many parts of eastern Southern California or Arizona.  Several years ago, my wife and I were managing humanitarian projects in the Dominican Republic and spent a lot of time in “el Sur” – as the Dominicans call the southwest corner of the country.   We had recurring projects in the city of Barahona and reforestation and irrigation projects in one of the side valleys leading off of the Yaque Sur river valley.


A couple more images will help fill in the geography of the area:


The image above shows the “cuencas”, the watersheds, of the region.  The two that concern us are the large YaqueSur valley watershed through which  the Rio Yaque Sur winds its way down to the sea at Barahona and the Lago Enriquillo watershed in which all water there flows down into the lake, from which there is no outlet.

The general geography is this:


In this map it is hard to see that the two watershed are separate –  but I have penciled in a black line showing that the divide that runs more or less due north from the smaller lake near the bay. (This divide becomes important later.)  The small red rectangle in the upper right is the location of the Rio Las Cuevas valley, where several of our reforestation and irrigation projects took place.

In 2013/14, there was great concern locally that the lake was expanding, the water rising, and this increase in size was impinging on local settlements on its shores – flooding grazing areas, banana farms and little towns of cinder-block homes.  The flooded areas are shown on the map above in red.  The land and homes that were being flooded were those of some of the country’s poorest people, increasing the toll.  These people were there because, years earlier, when the lake decreased in size, the shoreline receded and made available land that wasn’t already owned by anyone.


Starting in the mid-1980s, the lake began to shrink, losing 100 km2 in surface area by the year 2003 – which means those 100 km2 were then dry land – available for the taking.  And take they did, occupying land for agriculture and over time building small villages of shacks and concrete-block homes along the shore of the lake.  This may seem odd to readers from countries where all the land has been owned by someone for hundreds of years but in the DR things are a bit looser and this type of squatting is rampant, even in cities.

So what do you suppose they did?  They were looking at this situation:


(Note:  This graph originally shows a point at 1965 that cannot be correct.  The civil record shows no sudden 10 meter increase in depth of this lake, which would have caused massive flooding of towns along the lake’s north shore.  No record exists of any such event, so I have penciled in (in blue) a guesstimate. Passing hurricanes dump water into the lake, but it continues to shrink.)

This wonderful lake, home to American salt-water crocodiles, is considered a national treasure and is designated a National Park.  It is disappearing, shrinking, the salt concentration is rising, threatening fish.  So, in 2003-2005, they dig canals from the Yaque Sur to the lake to add some fresh water.  They dig more canals from the dam on the Yaque near Padre Las Casas to bring irrigation water from the Yaque Sur watershed into the Lago Enriquillo watershed.

There are persistent rumors about a broken dike or levee — such as “But then canals from the Yaque del Sur were constructed to keep water levels steady and the salinity at such a rate that marine life could continue to survive. But the lake surface area never expanded at the rate it did after one of the Yaque del Sur dykes broke following the storms in 2003”.   There is no evidence for this theory, this rumor.  See a fuller report on this in my essay “Lago Enriquillo Revisted“.

But only ten years after the panic that the lake was shrinking and disappearing, the panic shifted to “Rising Tide Is a Mystery That Sinks Island Hopes”.   American engineering students from Cornell and CCNY had been sent down to do studies and write papers.  Luna and Poteau of Cornell supply this longer-term data:


The water is rising and flooding land, higher than historic levels.  My analysis to this point is given at the end of my previous essay: “Lago Enriquillo Revisted“.

I promised an update and here it is:

From the Dominican press:




For those of you who cannot read Spanish (although over 18% of New Yorkers can):




The pages are (machine-) translated by Google, with obvious errors and misunderstandings, but luckily, I can read Spanish.  The lake levels have receded by 50 meters and the retreat began in 2013.  Farmers are beginning to recover their lands that only a couple of years ago were underwater.

The receding waters are attributed to drought in the southwest DR over the last few years.

As for the recent history, we finally see this admission: “By 2013 this salinity had dropped significantly as a result of the large amount of fresh water coming from the rainfall that has accompanied the storms and hurricanes, as well as the contributions of Yaque del Sur [from] 2004 to 2012.”  Which tends to confirm my suspicion that the rising lake was the result of human error (*on top of natural variation).

Last year I concluded: “In the case of Lago Enriquillo, in spite of the relationship between lake levels and incoming water, none of the major studies actually attempted to measure, or even estimate, in any way, the water being imported into Cuenca [watershed]  Enriquillo from the Yaque Sur – even though they were attempting to understand where the extra water was coming from. This strikes me as an obvious oversight – or political correctness, not wishing to blame a government agency [INDRHI] for causing the problem.”

My best guess at this time?  Remember, all water entering the Lago Enriquillo watershed stays there until evaporation removes it, there is no other outlet. So, basically,   INDRHI [Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos – National Institute of Hydraulic Resources] had piped water to the lake (via canals) and into its watershed (as irrigation water) from the Yaque Sur and left the tap running  for eight years – under one or more of the following circumstances:   as upkeep and maintenance are not strong points of Dominican governmental agencies,  the mechanism to control the flow of water into the lake was broken and never repaired properly  or was ineffective from the start or possibly there was no “tap” ever installed to be shut off  – at least until the lake level became an  issue (around 2012).

This is not an accusation – things are not easy for government agencies in the DR – they seldom have adequate funding for even their most basic tasks and depend on foreign aid to accomplish all major projects (see note below).    I suspect that the government not only built new homes for the displaced, better homes on better land,  but quietly repaired the system that was allowing a run-away flow of water from the Yaque Sur into the lake.  And, with the tap shut off, water is receding again.

Check back next year for another update – as time marches on and the Earth’s natural systems interact with human attempts to modify our environment.

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Note:  For example,   INDRHI  had an existing  program to supply isolated villages with clean drinking water by drilling wells.  They had the well-drilling trucks and an expert grew to operate it, but no hand-pumps to install, no pipe, and no cement and no money to buy any.  The NGO my wife and I managed arranged to have 500 pumps manufactured in India and shipped to the DR complete with well pipe and end-user repair kits.  We purchased local cement.  After three years, we financed an independent review by the UN’s WHO/PAHO (World Health Organization, Pan-American Health Organization)  to recommend improvements to the process and program.     In all, safe clean drinking water was supplied to 500 villages around the country over four years.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

Hope you don’t mind my following this interesting little story.   It is an example of how the press and certain elements of society turn unexplained occurrences into stories that push their favorite politically correct hobbyhorses and  advocacy positions.

Many of these situations, like the demise of amphibian species and honey bee hive collapse, take patience to let the science really find out what is going on.   We must resist our urges to have a quick answer – the quick answers are almost always wrong.

In today’s world, “It’s Global Warming” or “Climate Change done it” are the quickie, and nearly always wrong, answers most commonly thrown at us by the CAGW fanatics, MSM and blindered Academia. (well, that and “The Russians, the Russians, …”)

In 2005, one of my children, a [with her]  newborn babe in arms,  approached me and asked if I was worried about the future in light of the ongoing alarm about Global Warming. [correction h/t John M. Ware and Lance Wallace — one can never have too many editors – kh]  I told that child, “Let’s give it five or ten years and see how it turns out.”  Now we’ve had ten years of a pause in warming, or ten years of just a little warming [opinions vary], no disasters, and the hype is beginning to fade.  My advice today would be, “Let’s give it another ten years and see.”  I am patient when it comes to science issues.

Please keep the comments to topic (Lago Enriquillo) and if you are addressing me in your comment, begin with my first name “Kip….” so as to catch my eye.

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January 8, 2017 10:48 am

Kip, Nice article! Pls come to the Salton Sea in the Southern Calif. We could use help saving it from the stumbling, fumbling politicians and bureaucrats who are doing nothing material to prevent it from drying

Reply to  eric
January 8, 2017 11:08 am

Save the Salton Sea? An accidentally man made pond?

Danny Thomas
January 8, 2017 10:53 am

Sometimes nature has her way. Sometimes man steps in and changes natures course. Sometimes it takes a perceptive eye to attribute anthropogenic impacts appropriately.
Thank you for this analysis.

Lance Wallace
January 8, 2017 10:55 am

Very perceptive of the “newborn babe in arms”

John M. Ware
Reply to  Lance Wallace
January 8, 2017 1:27 pm

All you need do is add “her” before “arms.” I, too, was amazed at the perspicacity shown by a newborn.

January 8, 2017 11:11 am

Thank you for doing the job that climate obsessed journalists are unable or unwilling to do.

January 8, 2017 11:36 am

Thanks Kip for a great article, you did some great work down there regarding the fresh water wells. Hats of to you and your wife!

Ross King
January 8, 2017 11:50 am

Good reportage.
All the more reason for an academic institution(s?) to be established by Trump, Chartered with ***Non-AGW*** Climate Sciences, funded 50/50 with AGW-dedicated Research. In short, divide funding for Climate Warming Research equally between Anthropogenic-only Studies and ‘Everything But’. Organized and supervised by Dr. Judith Curry.
This wd provide employment for those Scientists not wholly convinced as to anthropogenicity (65%?) to follow their careers, un-ostracized and beyond peer- , institutional- and political pressure, in an enlightened environment. Let the academics compete for future funding and research-accolades on a level-playing-field.
If you think this is a good idea, please get on to Mr. Trump! Let’s get *all* the relevant facts out into the open: ‘Angels’ Advocacy’ to counter the Devil’s. Also, to rebut the Charlatans; purveyors of over-hyped, over-expensive and unnecessary technology funded at the public-trough; sinecure-retainers; and Snake-Oil Salesmen?!!!

Brian H
Reply to  Ross King
January 8, 2017 8:01 pm

Hear! Hear! from Canada.

January 8, 2017 11:55 am

Just over the border in Haiti is lake Etang Saumatre, which is also exhibiting a parrellel rise in water level as lake Enriquillo, although that lake level is not as high. There is an, as yet, undetermined quantity of subterranean ingress of water from the Haitian lake that gets to the Dominican Republic lake.
Added to this subterranean water ingress into lake Enriquillo is water from the topographically distant watershed (“cuenca”) of Yaque del Sur, which is highland fed. Which seems to indicate the changing Dominican Republic lake level is, in large part, driven by an altered rainfall pattern.
There are many micro-climates on Hispaniola island & there have been decade long dry conditions in a micro-climate that have significantly depleted aquifers, which years later can be fully restored or even exhibit more abundant water than a selected past date in time. Lake Enriquillo even had a coral reef fringe 6,000 years ago.
The settlers (“colon”) on unclaimed land where the lake had receeded are certainly living with sad consequences of moving into flood zones. However, even the established towns (Duverge pop. 13,500, Villa Jaragua, La Descubierta pop. 7,000 & smaller hamlets) have been seriously impacted, as has a major road linking Haiti between Neiba & Jimani.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
January 8, 2017 1:52 pm

Cornell Master of Engineering (2011) thesis by Luna & Poteau full free text pdf link = conclusion is basically that “… high precipitation events during last few years exceeding soil capacity …” for local absorption is responsible for lake level changes. Authors go on to point out that from 2003 to 2011 the Haitian lake rose 5 meters & from 2003 to 2010 the Dominican lake rose 6.5 meters. Their Fig. 3 tracks both lakes for few decades if anyone cares to look into the pattern; the irrigation water contribution would only be relevant on the Dominican side.

J Mac
January 8, 2017 12:14 pm

Thanks for an interesting tale of government ‘good intentions’, the unanticipated results thereof, and the political attempts to use the rising lake levels as false evidence of ‘rising tides’.
And a big ‘Thank You!’ for your in-the-field charitable work!

January 8, 2017 12:34 pm

Well it is the MY Times after all.
Breitbart has an interesting piece on the Times

January 8, 2017 1:01 pm

Even the NYT agrees climate changes . Humans , despite some over inflated sense of importance are not going to control the climate . We do the adaption thing best and isn’t that as it should be . If the seas rise there are winners and losers . It’s not all about us .
Humans have a better chance of working on human to human problems than wasting $$ Trillions on something that has a 4 billion year track record of doing what it wants .

Reply to  Amber
January 8, 2017 4:54 pm

+ Spoken words were never truer.

Crispin in Waterloo
January 8, 2017 2:10 pm

Lovely story. Thanks.
Sanity prevails.
The last bit: I presume you were installing India Mk II pumps. If you are interested in accessing epoxy/glass-filament-wound pump cylinders for those (no metal at all in them) to deal with corrosive ground water, contact me via the Mods.

January 8, 2017 2:26 pm

The NYT also covered the drying of the charmingly named Lake Poopo due to climate change. A tiny bit of googling revels the real factors.
New York Times 23 Jan 2016 had an article entitled- A Lake in Bolivia Evaporates, and With It a Way of Life
This article was updated and on 8 July 2016 the New York Times published another article- “Climate Change Claims a Lake, and a Way of Life”
This story was also published in the Guardian- Bolivia’s second-largest lake dries up and may be gone forever, lost to climate change – Friday 22 January 2016 13.10 AEDT
The Guardian has many comments attached to the article which picked up that the lake had dried up many times before and that a lot of water had been diverted for mining and agriculture.
There is a scientific study on the lake-
which confirms this and notes that there is a dam upstream which restricts water supply to the wet season. The collapse of the Tiwanaku civilization (c. AD 1100) has been attributed to an extended dry period (Binford et al., 1997).

Reply to  Kip Hansen
January 8, 2017 6:14 pm

From north to south, the state of Nevada is a series of ancient, dried up lake beds.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
January 9, 2017 2:34 am

Kip, thanks for your kind words and taking the trouble to do this good research. I will mention you to Big Oil.
Have you discovered – ? A great, thoughtful, and polished read.

January 8, 2017 2:48 pm

“My advice today would be, “Let’s give it another ten years and see.” I am patient when it comes to science issues.”
Which is fine when there are no compelling influences like another few £/$ Billion (trillion?) to be extracted from the public by way of taxation for renewables, which, in any competent business model would have been abandoned years ago.
My belief is the alarmist community have been given enough rope to hang themselves with. A pause of almost 19 years now (or heading that way rapidly) whilst Co2 has continued to rise, meanwhile, there are no convincing, in-field, empirical studies demonstrating Co2 causes global temperature rise.
Forty years of research, millions of scientific man hours, and billions of £/$’s poured into that one simple concept, and no one has produced anything like conclusive evidence. There should be hundreds, if not thousands of convincing papers on the subject by now, but there are none.
Without wanting to seem critical of your admirable hard work, who will be in government in the US in 10 years time? Who will have the belief to take the liberal lefty greens on, and actually say “enough is enough”? How much more money will be wasted, how much more human suffering before the greens are convinced they were wrong?
I sincerely hope Trump will put the brakes on because there sure isn’t another politician on the planet with the wherewithal to do it, with the possible exception of Putin, for all his faults.
Our income in the UK is taxed now at what is probably approaching 50% because of stealth taxes. Our contribution to madcap (failing) renewables is going to be £300Bn by 2030, £19Bn a year(?) whilst our National Health Service is running at a loss of £2.5Bn a year and has been announced as a humanitarian crisis by the Red Cross who have been called into help. Imagine that, the 6th or 7th wealthiest country in the world has to have it’s health service bailed out by the Red Cross!
It is utter madness to encourage the liberal greens, who will happily spend everyone else’s money on a problem mankind cannot possibly solve, to find more and more bizarre reasons to string the whole issue out.
And whilst I’m not great Trump fan (the better of two evils I think is the best description) if he stops this madness, and gets America back to work, the rest of the world will be a better place and he will go down in history with an admirable legacy.
And whilst you might like to give the greens in America ten years (and I’m assuming you are American) that equates to 20 years in Europe. I’ll probably be dead by then but my kids and grandkids will have to endure the financial fallout from 20 years of excessive taxation for no benefit other than to the green machine liberal elite. Even my kids tell me they don’t care about climate change. As our parents did, we dealt with the destructive mess of the 20th Century by adapting, not crystal ball gazing.
Stop the whole train wreck right now. It has gone on for ten years too long as it is.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
January 8, 2017 11:35 pm

Maybe Anthony could set up a NYT section? They seem to be blessed with much error.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
January 9, 2017 12:03 am

we all appreciate your hard work. Thanks for the link.

Michael Westen
January 8, 2017 3:11 pm

nature presents us with 2 types of problems
problems that can not be fixed
and problems that fix themselves

January 9, 2017 5:12 am

The Google time lapse shows the variation and recent residing of the lake levels from 1984 Also, the pattern of rise/fall is shown in the lake near Rio Las Cuevas valley.

Michael Carter
January 9, 2017 7:46 am

Kip – Did you detect any hydrothermal activity during drilling? Are there any natural hot springs in the region?

Michael Carter
Reply to  Michael Carter
January 9, 2017 8:11 am

P.S: Was any of the well water saline?

Michael Carter
January 9, 2017 9:14 am

Kip. I am a geologist who too has spent several years in water exploration and provision in developing countries. I recognised the geomorphology of the region you are addressing. The long term fate of the 2 lakes you describe is most probably death. They are part-way through the process that eventually results in salt lakes.
Rather than wait for you to answer the questions above I did my own research. Gypsum and salt are mined in the Neyba valley. Recently (in geological scale) this valley was a seaway. Not all rift valleys subside. Some uplift. Furthermore, within the last 100 ka global sea level was as least as high as what we see today and probably higher. I would still put my money on uplift. Portions of these lakes are below sea level. Uplift has formed a marine barrier.
I have seen a similar scenario on a much larger scale at Afar in the East African Rift Valley. There, the process was more advanced. Most lakes had dried up. These are below sea level too.
If the pumps you bought in were Afridev I suggest you go back and do a survey on how many are still operating. They are flawed. “Village maintenance” is fine in theory. It seldom works.
Michael C

Michael Carter
Reply to  Kip Hansen
January 9, 2017 10:07 am

Kip – well done. I hope you used the upgraded plunger and seal. Many Indian manufaturers just keep sending out the early flawed version. They don’t care

January 9, 2017 12:29 pm

as determined by myself, we were warming globally at a rate of about 0.012K /annum when looked at it over the past 30-40 years
however, the last 15 years we have started some cooling, from the top latitudes downward.
naturally this means less clouds and rain at the higher latitudes and more clouds and rain around the equator.
hence we have already seen major rain /flooding in the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil and now apparently also in the DR
this is also apparent from the records of the flooding of the Nile [south to north] and another big river in South America flowing north to south
hence, you can expect more rain the DR for the years to come…..

January 10, 2017 8:01 am

I now heard of flooding in Thailand….
Amazing actually, that people refuse to look at the correct [solar] cycles to determine the precipitation to be expected around them…
it all works like the pendulum of a clock!comment image
perhaps do the right analysis on the DR to see what to expect?

January 13, 2017 10:36 pm

Are there no long term rainfall data going back to 1927 from Haiti, e.g. Port-au-Prince?
if you can get it, I would also be interested in doing that analysis
here you can the oldest data I could find, going back to the beginning of the last century. You can see the pendulum relationship that I am claiming exists? At least you can see that the actual measured 1100 at that time does not fit the curve at all?
At least give it a try [if you can find the data)

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