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Protecting the Canal’s Water Now for a Sustainable Future

Thursday, 06 February 2020 | 12:00

Earlier this month, the Panama Canal announced new measures aimed at sustaining an operational level of water and providing reliability to customers as it implements a long-term solution to water. Before the new measures go into effect on February 15, we thought we would revisit the innovative measures already in place by sharing a few frequently asked questions on the topic. Check out our responses below to learn how coffee, cross-filling lockages and other innovative solutions are already helping save water at the Panama Canal.

Why are water conservation measures needed at the Panama Canal?
In 2019, rainfall at the Panama Canal watershed was 20 percent below the historic average, marking the fifth driest year in 70 years. It follows several years of lower than average rainfall coupled by a 10 percent increase in water evaporation levels due to a 0.5-1.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature. Together, this has led to persistently low water levels at Gatun Lake.

What is the Canal currently doing to save water in its operations?
One of the main conservation measures is the use of cross-filling lockages at the Panamax Locks. This technique sends water during transits between the two lanes at the Panamax Locks to optimize the transfer of water between chambers and reduce discharge to the sea. Each day, cross-filling is already saving the Canal the same amount of water used in six lockages. Watch the video below to see how this technique works:

In addition to cross-filling lockages, the Panama Canal has suspended power generation at the Gatun Hydroelectric Plant and hydraulic assistance at the Panamax Locks, the latter of which expedites transits, but requires more use of water. The Canal team also uses water-saving basins at the Neopanamax Locks, and, when vessel sizes allow, coordinates tandem lockages, transiting two ships in the same lock at the same time to save water.

Is the Canal doing anything else to save water?
The Panama Canal has long recognized water as its principal resource, implementing and expanding a myriad of programs that stretch beyond its operations in the name of conservation. One of the Canal’s core programs is the Environmental Economic Incentives Program, or PIEA in Spanish, which offers land titles and sustainable farming classes to local farmers, who in turn, reforest, protect, and cultivate more than 21,000 acres of the local watershed, with coffee as a key crop. The program’s efforts have led to greater yields for farmers, while preventing runoff, ensuring more arable land for future use and preserving water resources and the environment.

So far, results for PIEA are impressive:

  • 126 villages and 1,653 farms benefiting from the program in the watershed
  • 15,000+ land titles delivered
  • 9,000 hectares (22,239 acres) of land reforested
  • 1,600 acres (647.5 hectares) of forest land protected
  • 5,300,000 seeds planted
  • 175% increase in coffee production in the region
  • 4,000+ hectares (9,884 acres) expected to be reforested within the next five years

What is the Panama Canal considering as a potential long-term solution for water management?
The Canal is analyzing and identifying long-term solutions to water availability. The team is currently discussing a series of options to draw water from a lake outside the Watershed, as well as a dam in Gatun Lake that would increase water storage and regulate water flow.
Source: Panama Canal Authority

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