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Challenges and Environmental Threats To Canal Operations -- Climate Change and Rainfall; Canal Lakes Water Levels; Transiting Ship Draft Restrictions; etc.

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Lowest rainfall in 103 years threatens Canal


THE HURRICANES  that devastated areas of the United States and islands in the Caribbean could affect the operation of the Panama Canal in the upcoming year.

Rains that have fallen in the Panama Canal basin during October have been the lowest in the last 103 years of the Canal’s operation.

This is not an El Niño phenomenon. The decrease of the rains in the Pacific sector is related to the hurricanes in the Caribbean, that sucked the precipitations towards other areas.

“The hurricanes caused a decrease in rainfall in the basin by creating suction to the Atlantic, “sais Carlos Vargas, executive vice president of the Environment, Water and Energy division of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).

October and November are the two wettest months of the year and  “If it rains normally during the next 60 days you could collect enough water and fill the lakes, but if the drought continues, we would have to evaluate that next summer 2018 can be difficult in terms of water management,” he said.

The ACP  has adopted preventive measures to save water in the operations of the Canal and in the generation of energy.



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Ridiculous.  Climate change does NOT force a surcharge.  That is entirely the fault/responsibility of the ACP.  What they are trying to do here is get the same amount of money by providing less servic

As the articles above state, this was the 5th lowest rainfall in the past 70 years.  That means that at least four other times since 1950 it has been even drier.  It happens. They didn't impose Climat

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Panama Canal rules out another extension until 2025 due to lack of water

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 12:12

Diseño sin título (59).jpg

The Panama Canal ruled out the possibility of building a fourth set of locks at least until 2025 today because it has not yet found a new water source, said the water route administrator, Jorge Luis Quijano.

"I do not see it being done before 2025 because first we have to be sure that we have water and that the demand of it is correct. So far there has been no decision, we have simply taken the decision to study other sources of water and also study the technical aspects," he said.

Quijano, who participated in the inauguration in the Panamanian capital of a congress of the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure (PIANC), explained that the interoceanic route is currently conducting hydrographic studies in the Bayano Lake areas and Indo River.

The administrator said that "there is a great demand for vessels with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)" and that the channel expects to close this fiscal year with a cargo movement of more than 430 million tons.

Quijano recalled that last month the methane tanker "LNG Sakura", the first LNG vessel from the new Cove Point plant in Meryland (United States), which was on its way to Japan and transported 137,000 cubic meters of that fuel, traveled through the expanded locks last month.

"That ship arrived here without reservation, but we made very special managements to try to attract it, since the original plan was not to go through the Panama Canal, but to go through the Cape of Buena Esperanza (Argentina) or the Suez Canal (Egypt)," he said.

The methane tankers of liquefied natural gas, a product on the rise in the United States thanks to the so-called shale oil, before could not pass through the old channel due to its large size.

The expansion, whose cost already exceeds 5,600 million dollars and was opened in June 2016, was built precisely so that these ships could cross, the so-called neopanamax, which have the capacity to carry up to 14,000 containers.

Through the channel, built by the US at the beginning of the last century and transferred to Panama on December 31, 1999, close to 6 percent of world trade passes and connects more than 140 sea routes and 1,700 ports in 160 different countries.



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The Challenges of the Panama Canal

Increased cargo traffic, improving the availability of water for the passage of ships and construction of the rolling cargo port, are some of the challenges the authorities of the interoceanic route face for the coming years.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Representatives from the Panama Canal Authority reported that the levels of traffic currently being reported have already reached the figures expected to be reached in 2020.

If this rate of growth continues, the third set of locks will be close to reaching its maximum capacity in 2026, however, before thinking about a new expansion, authorities are warning that increased water availability must be ensured.

See "More Traffic Projected in Panama Canal"

Concerning the possibility of an extension, Jorge Luis Quijano, head of the Panama Canal Authority, told Prensa.com that " ... they are not promoting any type of expansion, but he points out that projections indicate that by 2030 capacity of the waterway will need to be increased."

Another issue that is a priority is that of the port in Corozal, which consists of the development of a 1,200 hectare logistics area near the International Terminal of PSA Panama, former port of Rodman.

See "Roll On- Roll Off Port Plan Revived"

The purpose of the terminal, which will specialize in rolling cargo, is to convert the area where it will be built into a center for redistributing vehicles, machinery and heavy equipment to serve the local market and other countries in Latin America.

In regards to this, Quijano added that " ...'We need to give value to the cargo we handle. Because we are not producers, we must look for mechanisms to generate new revenues', giving formality to what will be diversification of business in the Canal."



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Panana Canal and people urgently need more reservoirs

MORE neopanamax ships
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WHILE the trade war has not yet affected the Panama Canal its future depends on the water supply that maintains adequate levels in Lake Gatun for the transit of large containerships, neopanamax and methane tankers, and cruise ships which now have access because of the expanded locks, and new reservoirs are urgently needed.

The statement came from the Canal Authority Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano on Tuesday. October  23 at  a f.orum sponsored by  La  Prensa

The administrator said that by 2020 it is estimated that the water consumption of the Canal basin will rise 79% due to the demand of the population for which it is vital

“The total consumption will increase from 438 million gallons per day to 662 million gallons by 2020, which is worrying because there will be more pressure on the resource that is vital to maintaining the competitiveness of the Canal, ” he said

Quijano said that it is fundamental to be able to adequately manage water consumption both for the population and for the supply of Gatun Lake and the entire Canal route.

He indicated that currently, the Canal basin supplies about 60% of the consumption of the

Panamanian population and there must be a project to supply water, from Lake Bayano to Pacora to supply the urban growth of the East area, as well as other projects that will demand more water resources.

“In the coming years, 225 million gallons a day will be extracted from the waters of the Canal by new water treatment plants and the consumption of the population,” he said.

Trade war
Cargo traffic through the Panama Canal has not yet felt the negative effects of the trade war between the United States and China, said Quijano. the United States is the first user of the Canal followed by China, so any restriction in trade between these two countries will have an effect on the route.

“There has not yet been a negative effect from the imposition of tariffs on imports from China, but if there is, we have calculated an effect of between $60 million and $65 million dollars,” he said.



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Fourth set of locks depends on water supply

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“The construction of the fourth set of locks for the Panama Canal will largely depend on water supply, and if that problem is not solved we can forget about it although the demand is there says Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano.

In   an interview with the EFE News agency he said  the construction of a fourth set of locks by 2025 had been considered  and in September 2016  he had announced the constitution of a team to study the matter, which was  conditioned  by the “demand” of the market, but already  the China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) had expressed interest in the work .

The third set of locks “reflects a ship size focused on the container carrier and coincidentally there are those of liquefied natural gas, that is, the ability to adapt to our infrastructure and the business models are those that have given us the ability to move in a business that is very rigid. ”

“Our infrastructure is not a thing that is built from one day to the next, it took us 9 years to expand, it’s not the same as every three, four months, you make a  new chi. to build a new lock it’s going to take another 8 years, “he said


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Alert as canal reservoirs exceed  operational level

Overfull reservoirs
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Both the Gatun and Alhajuela reservoirs have exceeded their operational level and  on Tuesday  Panama Canal Authority (ACP)  alerted populations living in the areas surrounding the reservoirs to be attentive “to the sound of sirens indicating spill operations and an imminent need to evacuate especially in the communities of Guayabalito and Santa Rosa”.

In this event, people must leave the banks of the Chagres River immediately and move away towards high areas, outside the floodplains.

The Gatún reservoir reached an elevation of 26.89 meters and the Alhajuela reservoir 76.98 meters at 11:00 am, Tuesday, November 20/

“The preventive spill operations are done to maintain the level of the reservoirs at safe elevations and avoid flooding in the areas of the locks, Canal facilities, and neighboring communities said an ACP press release.

The ACP said that it has response protocols for these situations, which are tested on a regular basis with communities and other entities.

According to the forecasts, the rains are expected to continue during the next few days over the area of the Canal watershed.

“Given the possibility of discharges, the Panama Canal reiterates its concern for people who have illegally occupied areas of risk identified by the Civil Protection System (Sinaproc), and that remain there despite repeated calls by the authorities to evacuate the area,” said the release.



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OPINION: A path to permanent drought

Posted 01/03/2019
The Panama Canal Authority has announced that it will decrease the draft of the ships that transit through the new locks. This is, in part, the effect produced by the flow of winds and the increase in solar radiation, which has increased the evaporation of water from the Canal reservoirs. Every centimeter that is subtracted from the depth of Canal customers represents less money, jobs, and benefits for our country. This is the fourth occasion in two months when the draft has been reduced, which may worsen as long as the El Niño effect currently in progress is not over. In addition to this cyclical phenomenon, climate change and the overuse of water use present enormous challenges to the Panama Canal. Without water, there is no Canal, agriculture, hydroelectric, tourism or quality of life. The watershed of the Panama Canal requires more protection, and water management must be considered one of the great strategic problems of Panama. We cannot live with our backs to the environmental crisis, nor can we let irresponsibility with water devour us all, leaving us in a permanent drought- LA PRENSA, Mar. 1


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Climate change sparks Canal transit alerts

Posted 02/03/2019
Climate change added to the El Niño phenomenon has brought other effects like stronger solar radiation and wind, forcing the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to communicate four alerts to draft adjustments for neopanamax vessels.

The maximum depth or normal depth to which Neopanamax can navigate through the Canal is 50 feet, but, due to the low levels of Gatun and Alajuela lakes, the ACP has had to announce changes.

The first adjustment, which was applied since February 11, reduced the level for the Neopanamax to 49 feet. The second adjustment, which took effect February 27, places the draft at 48 feet.

The third adjustment is announced from March 13 is to 47 feet and the fourth authorized to 46 feet from March 29, says Carlos Vargas, ACP vice president of Water and Environment.

The notice sent to the shipping companies indicates that ships arriving after March 29, with drafts of more than 14.02 meters (46 feet) may be allowed "depending on the actual level of Gatun Lake at the time of the transit". Otherwise, add the notice, it will be necessary to cut or download some merchandise.

Although removing the weight of the boats affects Canal revenues, so far it has not had much impact because there are few vessels that require more than 48 feet.



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  • Moderator_02 changed the title to Climate Change Affects Canal Operations
55 minutes ago, JohnF13 said:

And yet, how about the simple explanation - the new locks use a remendous amount of water but lake Gatun was not increased in size to provide it....


It's been years since I've read the contract for the new locks but one of the fundamental differences between the old and new locks is that the new locks use pumps versus gravity to fill the locks via dedicated reserves outside of Lake Gatun.  Drought should be much less of a concern.


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1 hour ago, JohnF13 said:

And yet, how about the simple explanation - the new locks use a remendous amount of water but lake Gatun was not increased in size to provide it....

The level of Lake Gatun was raised significantly during Canal expansion.

Maximum operating level of Gatun Lake

Canal elevations are referred to using the Precise Level Datum (PLD), which is close to the mean sea level of the Atlantic and Pacific entrances. The maximum operational level of Gatun Lake was raised by approximately 0.45 meters (1.5 feet) from the previous PLD level of 26.7 meters (88 feet) to a PLD level of 27.1 meters (89 feet). Combined with the widening and deepening of the navigational channels, this has increased Gatun Lake's usable water reserve capacity and allows the canal's water system to supply a daily average of 165,000,000 US gal (625,000 m3; 137,000,000 imp gal) of additional water. This additional water volume is enough to provide an annual average of approximately 1,100 additional lockages without affecting the water supply for human use, which is also provided from Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes.[


The new locks also retain 60% of their water.

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Yes, it does.  Especially if the lake has a larger surface area now.  I'm just not sure about climate change being blamed for everything.  It is an easy and convenient excuse for a lot of folks and organisations.

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I was NOT comfortable with the title for this topic -- Climate Change Affects Canal Operations. Have changed it now to read Climate Change and Canal Operations. If anyone objects or has a better title, please advise.

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Driest months in Canal history, impact economy


Reduced draft means less income

Posted 25/03/2019
Global warming contributing to the El Niño phenomenon means that the last four months (December, January, February and March) have been the driest in the entire hydrological history of the Panama Canal.

“'There is very little water from the rivers entering the Gatún and Alajuela lakes, sources of supply for the interoceanic canal locks and for the supply of 2 million people living in the metropolitan area of the city, says Carlos Vargas, vice president of Water and Environment of the Panama Canal told La Estrella.

The intensity of the solar radiation, added to a 30% increase in the winds, is causing the water in the lakes to evaporate at a faster rate than it enters and lake levels are falling at breakneck speed.

Lake Gatún has a deficit of 1.1 meters, and Alajuela, 2.7 meters. When there is not enough water, it is necessary to restrict the draft of the vessels that transit the interoceanic route.

So far four adjustments have been made: the first 49 feet, the second 48 feet, the third 47, the fourth 46 feet.

On April 10, an adjustment to 45 feet will be enforced, and a new adjustment to 44 feet is contemplated for May.

The chances of the scenario being maintained are high. The North American Agency of Atmospheric Administration (NOOA,) warned that there is an 80% chance of the El Niño phenomenon continuing until June.

The US agency estimates also indicate that there is a 60% probability that El Niño will continue until next August. "That makes the operation of water resources riskier," said Vargas.

The reduction in the draft, which is the depth of a ship when sailing, limits the load. By bringing less cargo the ship pays less toll, which would cause an impact on the finances of the waterway. The last Niño cost the canal administration $ 40 million, according to Vargas.

Another risk faced by the canal administration when the draft is reduced is the choice of alternate routes by the vessels. The Canal positions Panama as a logistics center and contributes to the country's economic growth. The passage of ships generates almost $3 billion annually.

The scenario is repeated widespread in the rest of the country. The main basins face the same situation as that of the Canal. For example, Bayano is well below its levels along with the Changuinola and Fortuna river basins.

“'There is not enough water in the reservoirs. The contribution of these basins is lower, obviously there will not be enough water for hydroelectric production,"said Vargas and The crops in Azuero and fishing, among other things, could also be affected

El Niño, a recurrent climatic pattern that involves changes in the temperature of ocean waters in the central and eastern part of the tropical Pacific,  which usually accentuates the drought on the Pacific slope.

In periods ranging from three to seven years, the surface waters of a large strip of the Pacific Ocean are heated or cooled between 1 ° C and 3 ° C, compared to normal. This heating and cooling is known as the ENSO cycle  It affects the distribution of rainfall in the tropics and can influence the climate in other parts of the world.

The National Aqueduct and Sewer Institute (IDAAN)Mhas recommended declaring a 'national emergency' for El Niño. The initiative is aimed at allowing faster purchases and contemplate the funds to defray the ravages of El Niño.

The Panama Canal studies the water potential of the Bayano, Indio and Villa basins, to build multipurpose reservoirs to store water in the rainy season and release it in the dry season. This will allow controlling floods, for human consumption, for agriculture and for livestock. "This will allow us to have water for the next 200 years," Vargas concludes.

The studies have an advance of 75%. They are expected to be ready for the next government administration to make the decision to build them.

Climate change
There is scientific that Panama is being affected by climate change: the air temperature increased 0.5 degrees Celsius in the Canal area and among the experts there is fear that it will increase between 1 and 1.5 degrees more, which would lead to a reduction of the availability of water, the main engine of the Panamanian economy.

Although the increase seems minimal, for the balance of the system small changes can result in significant impacts

An additional indicator of the effects of warming on canal lands is the intensity and frequency of storms. Eight of the ten largest storms of the last 50 years have been recorded since 2000. Scientific data has also revealed an increase in the average level of the Caribbean Sea, at the North entrance of the Panama Canal.



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Canal lakes face worst water  crisis in 106 years

Posted 03/04/2019
The announcement came on Tuesday, April 2 from is from was announced yesterday by Carlos Vargas, Vice President of Environment, Water and Energy of the Canal Authority (ACP).

The last rainfall was on November 23, which means that it is an atypical dry season, that is, drier than normal. When it doesn’t rain, very little flow is generated in the rivers, which means that less water enters Gatun and Alajuela lakes, reducing their levels below optimum.

The lakes are the main sources of supply for human consumption and Canal operations. Ships transitting the canal are forced to have lower drafts, which means reduced income for the ACP  a major contributor to Panama’s economy.



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5th draft adjustment, as drought costs canal $15 million


Posted 19/04/2019

The fifth draft adjustment for neopanamax vessels,  transiting the Panama Canal will kick in on April 30  creating estimated losses this year due to the low levels of Gatun and Alajuela lakes to $15 million..

With this measure, the draft of the ships, which is 50 feet, will be reduced to 45 feet, due to the lack of depth to travel safely. If there are no rains in the next few weeks another one-foot adjustment could be announced in May, said Carlos Vargas, vice president of Water and Environment of the Canal Authority ( ACP).

The draft adjustments have an economic impact on Canal revenues because ships are charged by tonnage and this measure forces vessels to carry less cargo . to float.

The draft of the ships, which is 50 feet, will be reduced to 45 feet, due to the lack of depth to transit.

There is also an impact on the service because customers tend to look for other alternatives,  said. Vargas

The draft settings represent a restriction to transport cargo through the Canal because the weight must be lowered to navigate. These measures could be avoided if there were sufficient water reserves to be able to navigate. One of the alternatives studied is the construction of a third reservoir, for which analysis is carried out.

Estimated losses
Since the beginning of the adjustment for the neopanamax, on February 11, to date, the Canal has lost nearly $ 15 million, because the ships must carry less cargo. The last  El Niño phenomenon, which affected the Canal between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, produced $40 million in losses, the ACP reported.



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Panama Canal postpones sixth draft restriction to June 12

Author Sam Eckett  Marieke Alsguth
Alisdair Bowles

22 May 2019

London — The Panama Canal Authority has postponed its sixth planned draft restriction in the canal for 2019 after heavy rainfall eased water levels in the tributary Gatun Lake.

In an advisory note to shipping firms, the PCA advised that the new maximum authorized drafts will become effective June 12, instead of May 28.

The new maximum drafts will be 13.11 meters (43.0 feet) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW) for vessels transiting the Neopanamax locks and 11.73 meters (38.5 feet) TFW for vessels transiting the Panamax locks.

"We will continue to monitor the level of Gatun Lake and announce future draft adjustments in a timely manner," the PCA added.

The Panama Canal Authority on May 6 announced a new maximum draft restriction of 43 feet, or 13.11 meters, in the Gatun Lakes, which was due to come into effect May 28.

The current maximum draft is set at 44 feet, or 13.41 meters, which came into effect April 30 and was announced April 1.

The continued tightening of draft restrictions in the Gatun Lakes is based on the projected precipitation and water levels of the lake. Further draft adjustments would be announced in 12-inch, or 30.5-cm, decrements, with advance notice of four weeks, the ACP said.

Ships arriving after June 12 with drafts exceeding the 43-foot level may be allowed to transit, depending on the Gatun Lakes' water level at the time, according to the ACP. If water levels are too low, ships with drafts exceeding the maximum allowable draft must trim or offload cargo in order to make transit.

Aframax and Long Range 2 vessels, which have a maximum draft of 14.9 meters when fully laden, will not be able to transit the Neopanamax Locks at the 13.11-meter restriction.

Suezmaxes, when fully laden, cannot transit the canal at a 43-foot draft, as tankers of this class usually require a 50-foot draft for a full 1 million barrel cargo of 43 API crude.

For dry bulk, Neopanamax and Capesize ships cannot transit the canal at a 43-foot (14.33-meter) draft, as they require maximum drafts of 15 meters and 20 meters, respectively.

Clean Medium Range and Long Range 1 tankers, dirty Panamax tankers and all LNG tanker classes can transit fully laden at the restricted 43-foot (14.33-meter) draft. Handysize, Supramax and Ultramax, and Panamax size dry bulk carriers, with maximum drafts of 10 meters, 11 meters and 12 meters, respectively, will be able to pass through the restricted 13.11-meter maximum draft.

--Sam Eckett, samuel.eckett@spglobal.com

--Marieke Alsguth, marieke.alsguth@spglobal.com

--Edited by Alisdair Bowles, alisdairbowles@spglobal.com



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More rain but not enough for Canal


Less depth of water, less draft. less cargo

Posted 09/06/2019

The  recent rainfall on the Panama Canal watershed has not been enough to reach the levels that lakes should have at this date.

"The rains have been below average and have failed to raise the levels of the lakes," said Carlos Vargas  Vice President of Environment and Water of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

It has been a situation similar to 2016 when there was also an El Niño phenomenon, but the level of Gatun Lake reached 78.50 feet, explained Vargas.

This time there is  a little more water than three years ago has been at 79.50 feet above sea level,

The low level in the lakes has forced the Canal to adjust the draft or depth for the transit of the Neopanamax ships, so these vessels must reduce the weight or load they transport.

At this time, a draft adjustment of 44 feet is maintained, but due to the low levels of the lakes, the shipping companies had been informed that from next  June 19, the draft will be lowered one more foot to 43 feet.

The statement sent to shipping companies y, a month ago, indicates that the adjustment would also apply to Panamax vessels, which would have their draft reduced from 39.5 feet to 38.5 feet. However, if on June 19, the lake levels have improved, it would not be necessary to apply the adjustment.

The lack of water in Lakes Gatún and Alajuela forces the ACP to create a third reservoir that allows saving this resource for use in the dry season, both for human consumption and for Canal operations.



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A Panama Canal without water nightmare


DEFORESTATION in the Canal watershed

Posted 19/06/2019

Despite recent rains, in the record held by the authority of the Panama Canal, the semester between December 2018 and May 2019 has been the driest in its history. Suddenly, Panamanians are confronted with two environmental realities: climate change and water scarcity. These phenomena have not been a surprise since for decades scientists and environmentalists have been warning about these threats. It is time to understand that water needs forests and greater conservation of the vital resource. You cannot be irresponsible in front of the environmental reality that the country is living. It will be useless to have an enlarged Canal if it is still reducing the draft of the ships that can transit it. This is the time for the Government, the private company, and civil society assumes the task of saving the ecosystems that we have left and restore those we have damaged. The political and economic model of Panama produces inequity and environmental loss that affects us all. If we do not change,  a Channel without water, will not be the only nightmare that we will have to face: LA PRENSA, June 19



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Canal  Basin Rainfall Lowest In 106 Years


Carlos Vargas warns business leaders of rainfall shortage

Posted 19/06/2019

Between December 2018 and May 2019, there was a deficit in the average rainfall recorded in the Panama Canal basin the driest of the 106 years of operation.

The climate change warning came Tuesday, Lune 18 from the vice president of Water and Environment of the Canal, Carlos Vargas, in the environment forum of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives.

Because of the drought, the Canal has made six draft adjustments which reduce the income of the Canal Authority (ACP) as ships carry less cargo.   A seventh adjustment was postponed to the 26th of this month. 

 The shortage of rain has also raised concerns about the supply of drinking water from Panama’s lakes. and the urgent need to build more reservoirs.



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