The Panama Canal says water conservation measures have been successful in securing steady draft reliability for the next several months as the waterway continues to seek long-term measures to ensure water levels are maintained.
After several years of below average rainfall, last year the Panama Canal experienced its fifth driest year in 70 years with rainfall just 20 percent of average.
The extended drought forced the Panama Canal Authority in February to adopt new measures to maintain sufficient operational water levels. The measures included introducing a new freshwater surcharge, reducing the number of available reservation slots, and altering the reservation system to increase certainty around transit schedules, which allows for more efficient use of water resources and conservation, such as cross-filling lockages. The Panamanian Government has also worked with local communities in the Panama Canal watershed to promote sustainability and reduce runoff.
“The waterway has carefully monitored its operational water usage since the end of 2018, when rainfall at the watershed was 20 percent below the historic average,” the Panama Canal Authority said in a statement. “This unprecedented drought severely constrained water levels at Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes, the main sources of water for the Canal and half of Panama’s population. Despite the extensive use of water conservation tactics across Canal operations, inadequate draft levels were still projected to significantly restrict cargo transiting the waterway if no further interventions were made.”
According to the Panama Canal Authority, the new measures have ensured that water levels at Gatun Lake can accommodate a steady 45-foot draft, higher than projected for the start of the rainy season, which is expected to begin mid-May.
“Ultimately, this renewed draft reliability will help bolster the resilience of the Panama Canal route in the months ahead as the industry faces economic uncertainty in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, the Panama Canal’s search for long-term solutions continues. By the end of the year, the team aims to not only request and review engineering proposals, and after that, begin constructing a long-term solution. Having a steady water supply is a top priority for the Canal, and so we will partner with innovative engineers to ensure that we can maintain our reliable service for years to come,” the Panama Canal said.