The Canal looks for water sources

Climate changes, el Niño phenomenon, deforestation and human pressure are jeopardizing the hydric resources of the Panama Canal. The interoceanic waterway depends on water to keep functioning and it is imperative to find ways to find and preserve this vital liquid.

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) took the decision in May this year to impose new draft restrictions on ships crossing the locks and required them to carry less cargo.

The main problem for the Canal was the low levels of Lakes Alajuela and Gatun, the two artificial reservoirs that supply water to the canal and which also provide drinking water to the Panamanian population.

To avoid a repetition of what happened in the first five months of 2019, the ACP is looking at several options to have an ample supply of water, especially in the hot summer months.

Carlos Vargas, Vice President of Environment, Water and Energy of the Canal Authority, recently told the New York Times that the ACP is trying to store enough water from the rainy season to be able to operate in dry seasons. This year showed that this is not always possible. Water storage is a priority even in normal years.

Vargas added that the solution is to build more dams, but it is a costly way of action, especially when there is no additional available water in the basin of the Chagres River, which provides liquid to the Alajuela and Gatun Lakes.

“To have new water, basins farther away from the canal would have to be used, for which tunnels and dykes should be built,” said Vargas.

The Indio River could provide water to the Canal.

New sources of water

The ACP is studying the feasibility of using the Bayano and Indio rivers as sources of water. In March, 2019, it announced that at the end of this year it will give the results of those investigations to the Environment Ministry (MiAmbiente). The authority has invested $34 million in the studies.

The general idea is to build reservoirs on those rivers to provide water for the Canal operation and provide drinking water to the public.

The studies form part of the National Water Plan that seeks to guarantee the supply of drinking water in the foreseeable future.

The ACP has been studying the feasibility of creating multipurpose reservoirs that could be used to collect drinking water, irrigation, tourism, sailing, but not for the construction of hydroelectric plants. Depending on the results and the costs of those projects, the authority will decide how to proceed.

Previous studies carried by the ACP have found that the Indio River basin produces great quantity of good quality water. However, the inhabitants of the area are opposing the project, although no decision has been made.

If the Indio River reservoir goes ahead it will take at least five to six years before it will become operational and a decision taken by the Laurentino Cortizo government.

The Indio River

The river basin of the Rio Indio has an elongated shape and covers a total of 580 square kilometers. It begins in the province of Coclé, between the communities of Alto de La Mesa and Río Indio Nacimiento. It also crosses part of the West Panama province before arriving at Colón, where it flows into the Caribbean Sea, in the community that bears the same name.

The main channel of the river covers a total of 98 kilometers, from its source to its mouth. During its journey it receives contributions from secondary rivers such as Teriá, Uracillo, El Jobo and La Encantada. The river has a healthy ecosystem.

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