The Panama Canal river basin received 20% less rainfall in 2019 than the historical average, and the low levels of the main lake that feeds the road make it fear that it does not reach “adequate margins to face the dry season” that It starts this month.
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) said Monday that last year the Canal watershed received 2,149 millimeters of rainfall, 20% less than the historical record of 2,695 millimeters, which made 2019 the fifth driest year of the last seven decades.
The ACP is the autonomous state company that manages the water route through which 6% of world trade passes and connects more than 140 sea routes and 1,700 ports in 160 countries. Its main clients are the USA. and China
LOW LEVEL OF THE MAIN LAKE THAT SUPPLIES THE CHANNEL
The Panama Canal feeds on the artificial lakes Gatun (1913) and Alhajuela (1935), but that water also supplies the metropolitan area of Panama City, that is, about 1.5 million people.
The ACP said Monday that Gatun Lake is well below average, “with the risk of not reaching adequate margins to face the next dry season” of Panama, which formally runs from January to April, although in recent years It has been extended until May.
“At 7.00 on Monday, January 6, Gatun Lake registered 25.72 meters (84.37 feet), lower than 26.80 meters (87.92 feet) of the expected level for this date, while Alhajuela stood at 76.85 meters (252.28 feet), compared to the 76.63 meters (251.42 feet) of the guide level, “said the Canal.
The ACP stressed that Gatun Lake is 10 times larger than Alhajuela.
Two weeks ago the Alhajuela reached its maximum storage capacity, so it was used to send the surplus in free flow to Gatun, but this has not been enough to reach the expected levels in this lake before starting the dry season, he added the ACP.
The ACP said Monday that preventive measures are maintained such as “the use of water-saving tubs in the neopanamax locks”, those of the expansion inaugurated in June 2016, which allows the passage of ships with triple the load of the that cross the original operational route since 1914.
Also the elimination of hydraulic assistance in the panamax locks, the centenarians, which although they speed up the transit of ships imply greater use of water; and the application of cross-locks, that is, water is sent between the two lanes of the panamax locks during transits to reduce their discharge to the sea.
THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CRISIS
The strength of the droughts of recent years, which are associated with the climate crisis, forced in 2019 to “reduce the tonnage load” of ships on “three occasions” because the ocean route did not have the optimum level of water, said in an interview with Efe at the end of last December the Minister of Channel Affairs, Aristides Royo.
As options for obtaining new water sources, there has been talk of desalination of water from the Atlantic Sea and of taking the resource from the dam that feeds the Bayano hydroelectric power plant, added the minister and president of the ACP Board of Directors, although he pointed out that “in the future we will have to think about other solutions, because we don’t know what climate change will be like. “