Panama Canal water levels steady again following record dry season

Panama Canal water levels steady again following record dry season
The rainy season is expected to begin in mid-May

The Gatun Lake’s water levels can now accommodate a steady 45 ft draught, easing the Panama Canal Authority’s (ACP) worries, after it implemented water saving measures less than three months ago to cope with the fifth driest year at the canal in 70 years.

Water levels are higher than projected for the start of the rainy season, which is expected to begin in mid-May.

Panama’s rainy season official start date will be determined by various environmental factors, such as wind speed, rainfall in the watershed, ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Panama, among other metrics.

A statement from the ACP noted: “Thanks to the long-standing partnership with our customers and their flexibility to adapt to these measures, the Panama Canal has now emerged from its dry season equipped to ensure a competitive draught, and thus steady operations for months to come.”

The waterway has carefully monitored its operational water usage since the end of 2018, when rainfall at the watershed was 20% below the historic average.

This unprecedented drought severely constrained water levels at Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes, the main sources of water for the canal.

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.

Therefore in February, the ACP adopted a series of measures to sustain an operational level of water including a freshwater surcharge informed by daily water level data at Gatun Lake, a profit-neutral measure that is also a standard practice across the industry.

The reservation system was also altered to increase certainty around transit schedules, which allowed for more efficient use of water resources and conservation tactics, such as cross-filling lockages.

This is a technique developed by the canal team to help save the same amount of water used in six lockages each day by sending water between the two lanes during transits at the Panamax Locks.

Changes to the reservation system have also been made to offer extended flexibility to customers with regards to fees and swapping booking slots.

The ACP added: “Ultimately, this renewed draught 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”