Like other regions of the country affected by low levels of rainfall, the Panama Canal Hydrographic Basin will close the month of October as one of the driest in history, so the Canal has redoubled the measures to conserve and make more efficient use of water.
According to the Panama Canal records, October will conclude with an estimated 215 millimeters of precipitation, which represents 35% below the historical average of 331 millimeters, and places it as the third-lowest in the last 70 years.
The low precipitation of October maintains the trend of the year in which all the months of 2019 the rains in the Canal Watershed have been lower than their historical level.
As a result of climate change, several regions of the country are affected by drought, which led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the provinces of Coclé, Colón, Darién, Herrera, Los Santos, and Veraguas, by the Cabinet Council.
Faced with this situation and anticipating the deficit of the reservoirs a few weeks after the beginning of the dry season, the Panama Canal has redoubled the measures it has been applying to conserve water and have a more efficient use in the operations of the interoceanic highway.
Savings and efficient use measures in Canal operations:
- These measures include the suspension of power generation at the Gatún hydroelectric plant since October 2018 so as not to wastewater through the turbines.
- During the transit of vessels, conservation actions are implemented such as the elimination of hydraulic assistance in the Panamax locks, which speed up the transit of the ships but imply greater use of water.
- Cross-locks are applied, that is, water is sent between the two lanes of the Panamax locks during transits, to reduce their discharge to the sea.
- To the extent that the size of the vessels allows it, two ships are traveled at the same time (simultaneous locks).
- There is intensive use of water-saving tubs in the neo-Panamax locks.
The low rainfall has caused the level of the Gatun and Alhajuela reservoirs that supply water to half of the country’s population, to be well below average, with the risk of not reaching adequate margins to face next season dry
If this trend is maintained, the reservoirs will depend on extraordinary rainfalls such as those that occurred in 2010 with the storm La Purísima and Otto in 2016, so that Gatún and Alhajuela reach sufficient levels to meet the population’s water demand during the dry season and to Channel operations.
In previous years, the low level of the reservoirs has affected the supply of water treatment plants that take water from Gatún and Alhajuela for the provinces of Panama, Colon and Panama Oeste, while the Canal has had to reduce the draft with which they can travel ships, negatively impacting the income of the interoceanic route.