The US designed a water program to face drought in the Panama Canal

Isbel Lázaro.

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Inspenet, September 11, 2023.

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced the implementation of drastic measures to preserve water and address the growing drought that could threaten the continuity of maritime traffic through its route. This initiative aims to address the demand for the vital liquid for human consumption in the areas near the Canal Basin and guarantee the water resource necessary to maintain the operational efficiency of the Canal in the next 50 years.

Current weather conditions have resulted in a decrease in maximum vessel weights and a restriction on the number of crossings allowed each day , raising concerns that these events will become commonplace.

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The water program for the Panama Canal

In 2021, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) established an agreement with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to receive consulting and technical advisory services under the Water Projects Program. This program focuses on a series of projects with the purpose of addressing the provision of raw water for more than half of the country’s population.

In addition to considering the sustainable operation of the Canal, climate scenarios and growth projections are also taken into account. This ambitious project has an allocated budget of $2 billion and the new water management system is expected to be operational by the end of 2025, ensuring an additional supply of 1.4 billion m 3 of water in the coming years.

The main strategy of the program is to address the drinking water needs of the regions adjacent to the Canal Basin, which comprise close to 50% of the population. In addition, its objective is to guarantee the supply required to maintain the reliable operation of the Canal and its activities for the next five decades.

“The Gatún reservoir has an area of ​​more than 400 km 2 and if five millimeters of water evaporate, for us that is a whole world in our water balance. As a result of this active El Niño event, the rainy season started late and weak,” said Ajax Murillo, meteorological officer of the Panama Canal.

In 2019, the ACP and the United States Army Corps of Engineers signed a cooperation and technical assistance agreement that covers various areas, including engineering, environmental sustainability, operations, disaster damage reduction, and risk analysis in resource management. integrated water.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has extensive experience maintaining water infrastructure around the world, such as dams, levees, ports and canals. Its participation in projects linked to the Panama Canal underlines the strategic importance of this maritime route for global trade.

A challenging season

For boat owners, these limitations present a number of challenges. First, they face the decision of reducing the cargo carried, selecting alternative routes that can significantly increase the distance of the trip or facing waiting in queues that have affected more than 200 ships per day and caused delays of up to 21 days.

These restrictions are already having tangible impacts, including an increase of up to 36% in the costs of shipping goods between China and the United States.

“We have to wave a caution flag because temperatures are well above normal,” said Drew Lerner, founder and senior agricultural meteorologist at World Weather, whose clients include global commodity traders.

Simultaneously, canal officials are scrambling to manage disruptions to shipping traffic and are anticipating an even more pronounced dry spell next year.


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