Panama Canal plans to build a reservoir to secure water

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By LatAm Reports Staff Writers

The project, which will have to be tendered, involves the construction of a dam on the Indian River for $1.6 billion.

Panama Canal administrator Ricaurte Vásquez said Monday that a new reservoir, for about $1.6 billion, is planned to build in six years, that will allow the interoceanic track to have more water to maintain its operation.

The project, which will have to be tendered, involves the construction of a dam on the Indian River, west of the sea, to prevent the Canal from having to re-restrict the transit of ships due to water shortages, as happened in 2023.

Unlike the Suez Canal, the Panamanian track does not use seawater, but fresh water that gets from abundant rains.

“We talk about six years,” Vasquez told reporters when the new reservoir would be ready.

The Canal’s deputy administrator, Ilya Marotta, explained that those six years include “all what social work is” with the more than 2,000 people who will be affected by this work, as well as the construction of the dam and filling.

The approximate cost of the project “extends the $1.2 billion (of dollars) only in physical construction” and “approximately about $400 million” in the care of affected communities that will have to be relocated, Vasquez added.

Last week the Supreme Court ordered that the waters of the Indian River can be used by the Panama Canal.

This interoceanic route, through which 6 % of world maritime trade passes, works with water stored in the artificial lakes Gatún and Alhajuela.

For each boat that passes, about 200 million liters of fresh water are poured into the sea, which the Canal obtains from a watershed that also supplies drinking water to half of the country’s population.

The Indian River dam would allow water to be passed through a tunnel about 8 kilometers to Lake Gatún.

The Canal basin was last renovated in 1935, when there were about 6,000 transits, less than half that now, and the Panamanian population did not reach half a million, against 4.4 million today.

In 2023 all the alarms were raised when the drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon led the Panama Canal, whose main users are the United States, China and Japan, to reduce the daily transit of ships from 38 to 22 and from 15.2 meters to 13.4 meters the draught of the ships.

In addition to the Indian River project, the canal authorities are studying other alternatives to ensure the supply of water to the interoceanic 80-kilometre route.

“In the short term this is a necessary first step, but it is not enough, that must be clear,” Vásquez said.

Water in this basin “would be exhausted in 10 years” if savings or new infrastructure projects are not made, warned, “Oscar Ramírez, member of the board of directors of the Panama Canal.”

This article has been translated after first appearing in Diario El Mundo