Many people would agree that Tota Lake, the largest lake in Colombia, is beautiful. At just over 3,000 meters above sea level, it is surrounded by lush countryside and rolling hills.
But what is it worth? How can one measure the wealth that it brings to the country and to the local communities? And how can one measure the loss of wealth that its degradation entails? Or what evidence is needed to manage it in a way that it continues to benefit Colombia for years to come?
Lake Tota is the water source for 250,000 Colombians and contains a type of ecosystem that regulates water resources, said José Ricardo López, Director of the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Boyacá, the environment authority of the lake’s region. But it is also near onion fields that produce 70 percent of the onions consumed in Colombia, which greatly stresses the environment, according to López.
The Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystems Services (WAVES) global partnership will work with the Colombian Government to quantify all the functions the lake provides, such as water for drinking, agriculture, tourism, and fishing, and provide evidence for decision-making with the leadership of the National Department of Planning in Colombia.
Supported by the World Bank, WAVES’ partners include governments, international institutions, academia and non-governmental organizations. The program’s objective is to promote sustainable growth by incorporating natural capital accounting (NCA) into national planning systems. This allows countries to measure over time the value of nature and of different ecosystems, so that governments can make informed policy decisions.
Natural capital includes not only water and timber resources, but also more invisible assets, such as water filtration or flood protection that are not traditionally taken into account when designing policies.