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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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Panama Canal draft restrictions continue

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REDUCED draft hits Canal revenue

Posted 05/07/2019

The lack of rain has forced the Panama Canal to extend draft restrictions for Neopanamax vessels that have been in place since April says  the Vice President of Environment, Water and Energy of the Panama Canal Authority, Carlos Vargas.

Vargas said that compared to previous periods there has been a 50% reduction in rainfall in the river basin from December to June.

There is a marked lack of rainfall in the headwaters that supply Lakes Gatún and Alajuela. The Gatún presents a deficit of 1.8 meters in elevation; while Alajuela is down three meters, said Vargas.

Vargas warned that the restriction measured up to April 30 would cost the Canal $15 million. In the first week of July there is still not enough rain in lakes Gatún and Alajuela.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/business/panama-canal-draft-restrictions-continue-1

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Panama Canal Authority suspends latest draft restrictions on ships

Jim Wilson, Australia Correspondent 1 week ago [July 13, 2019]

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A suspension “until further notice” of the latest round of draft restrictions on ships using the Panama Canal was issued yesterday by the Canal Authority. Dry conditions are likely to continue throughout July and may last to the end of the year.

The current maximum authorized draft of 44.0 feet (13.41 meters) Tropical Fresh Water, for ships transiting the Neopanamax locks, and a draft of 39.5 feet (12.04 meters) Tropical Fresh Water, for vessels transiting the Panamax locks, will remain in effect until further notice.

In the “Advisory to Shipping A-26-2019”, the Canal Authority suspended the previous draft limit of 43.0 feet (Neopanamax locks) and 38.5 feet (Panamax locks), which were due to take effect on July 16 owing to the lower-than-normal water levels in Gatun Lake.

Gatun Lake – a critically important waterway

Gatun Lake, which covers 163.38 square miles was created by the building of Gatun Dam in 1910 across the Chagres River. The lake provides about 20 miles of the waterway that ships use to transit through Panama.

Water from Gatun Lake is also pumped into waterway’s lock chambers. That lifts ships 85 feet above sea level and allows them to sail from one side of Panama to the other. About 101,000 cubic meters of water (3.56 million cubic feet) are used to fill a lock chamber. The Canal Authority says that an average of 52 million gallons of fresh water are used in each transit.

Owing to the drier-than-normal weather, the Canal Authority said back in January that “water levels in Gatun and Madden Lakes [dropped] below the expected levels for this time of year. As a result, the Panama Canal has deemed it necessary to implement water conservation measures to delay implementation of seasonal draft adjustments and to minimize the adverse effect that these may have on our customers”.

A cascade of draft restrictions

The first draft restriction this year was set at 49.0 feet in January and took effect February 11. The Canal Authority said that vessels arriving with drafts over 49 feet might be required to trim or off-load cargo to transit.

Although the first draft limit was set at 49 feet in early January, a spate of advisories in January and February quickly dropped the level of allowable draft at the Neopanamax locks.

The allowable draft was quickly reduced to 48 feet, effective late February. Another reduction was announced to take effect in mid-March, down to 47 feet. By the end of February, the Authority had announced a further restriction in draft to 46 feet, to take effect March 29. By early March yet another restriction had been announced, this time to take effect in early April, when the allowable draft would be 45 feet.

But when early April rolled around, the Canal Authority found it necessary to reduce draft to 44 feet, which would take effect by the end of that month.

In early May, the level of allowable draft was reduced yet again, and this time to 43 feet, to take effect by the end of May.

However, shortly after mid-May, the Authority was reporting that “as a result of the amount of rainfall in the Panama Canal watershed during the past week”, the previously announced limit of 43 feet was postponed to June 12 instead of taking effect on May 28.

Rainfall continued in the watershed and the reduction in draft to 43 feet was postponed from June 12 to June 19. It was again postponed a few days later to June 26, then to July 03, to July 16 and now it has been postponed “until further notice”.

Why be dry? El Niño, that’s why

In Panama, the dry season runs from January to March, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. This year, the dry spell was drier than normal owing to the “El Niño” weather phenomenon with up to 60 percent less rain than the long-term average, the UN FAO said. There is a very high likelihood (over 80 percent) that El Niño conditions would persist until the end of July and a 50 percent chance they would persist until the end of the year. 

“El Niño” and “La Niña” are related weather phenomena that bring drought to some parts of the globe but heavy rains and floods to others. They are caused by winds driving warm water back and forth across the Pacific Ocean.

 

https://www.freightwaves.com/news/panama-canal-authority-suspends-latest-draft-restrictions-on-ships

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Low level  of lakes  threaten Canal revenue, drinking water

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Alhajuela Lake supplies, along with Gatun, the water treatment plants in the provinces of Panama, Panama Oeste and Colón. Taken from @IDAANinforma PANAMA CANAL

Posted 24/10/2019

In spite of recent heavy rainfall, the Gatún and Alajuela lakes, which provide drinking water to Panama City l and the provinces of Colon and Panama Oeste, remain at levels below the historical average for this time of year.

Alajuela reached 70.95 meters on Thursday, October 23  while Gatún remained at 24.90 meters, both below the expected levels of 71.38 and 26.34 meters, respectively.

It is not ruled out that for the next year a restriction on the draft of ships transiting the canal will be ordered, which this year cost the Canal Authority (ACP) $40 million, in lost income reports La Prensa

 


https://www.newsroompanama.com/business/low-level-of-lakes-threaten-canal-revenue-drinking-water

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Canal expands water saving measures as dry reason looms

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Posted 01/11/2019

The effects of  climate change gave The Panama Canal basin its third-lowest October rainfall in 70 years and  the  authorities   have redoubled the measures it has been applying to conserve water and have a more efficient use in the operations of the interoceanic waterway

The low precipitation of October maintains the trend of the year in which all the months of 2019 the rains in the river basin have been lower than their historical level.

Several regions of the country are affected by drought, which led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the provinces of Coclé, Colón, Darién, Herrera, Los Santos, and Veraguas

The emergency measures include the suspension of power generation at the Gatún hydroelectric plant since October 2018 so as not to wastewater through the turbines.

During the transit of vessels, conservation actions are implemented such as the elimination of hydraulic assistance in Panamax locks, which speed up the transit of ships but mean greater use of water.

Cross-locks are applied, sending water between the two lanes of the Panamax locks during transits, to reduce their discharge to the sea. To the extent that the size of the vessels allows it, two ships are traveled at the same time (simultaneous locks). There is intensive use of water-saving tubs in the neo-Panamax locks.

The low rainfall has caused the level of the Gatun and Alajuela reservoirs that supply water to half of the country's population, to be well below average, with the risk of not reaching adequate margins to face the upcoming  dry season

In previous years, the low level of the reservoirs has affected the supply of water purifiers that take water from Gatún and Alajuela for the provinces of Panama, Colon and Panama Oeste, while the

Canal has had to reduce the draft for transit ships, negatively impacting income.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/business/canal-expands-water-saving-measures-as-dry-reason-looms

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Climate Change Leaves Canal Reservoirs Short

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Posted 22/11/2019

Low rainfall on the Canal Hydrographic Basin in recent days have not been sufficient for the Alajuela reservoir to remain at its reference level, said the Panama Canal Authority on  Friday, November 22.

At 7:00 am, Lake Alajuela recorded 74.16 meters, lower than its guide level of 74.39 meters, while the Gatun reservoir continued below its reference with  25.16 meters, below its  26.68 meters guide level.

As a result of the low rains nationwide, including the hydrographic basin of the interoceanic highway, the Canal has prioritized water storage in Lake Alajuela in the management of reservoirs, through measures such as limiting energy generation at the Madden hydroelectric.

Gatún and Alajuela are artificial lakes that store the rainwater that falls in the Canal watershed and from there they supply the water treatment plants that serve two million people in the provinces of Panama, Colon and Panama Oeste, as well as the interoceanic operations.

As a result of climate change, several regions of the country are affected by a prolonged drought, which led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the provinces of Coclé, Colón, Darién, Herrera, Los Santos, and Veraguas.

Faced with this situation and anticipating the deficit of water accumulation in reservoirs a few weeks after the beginning of the dry season, the  Canal Authority has redoubled the measures it has been applying to conserve water and have a more efficient use in the operations of the interoceanic route.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/environment/climate-change-leaves-canal-reservoirs-short

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Lake Gatun  below expected level as dry season looms

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Posted 27/12/2019

In spite of recent rains  and with Panama on the eve of an anticipated severe dry season, Lake Gatun  remains 1.3 meters below the expected level

In addition, it was reported that Lake Alajuela stood at 76.99 meters, compared to 76.73 meters of the guide level.

 Gatun supplies the water treatment plants in Mendoza, Laguna Alta, Monte Esperanza, Miraflores, Sabanitas, Escobal, Cuipo and Gatún; as well as the Panama Canal operations ,

At 7:00 am on Friday, December 27, the lake  registered 25.51 meters, lower than 26.82 meters of the expected level for this date, while Lake Alajuela stood at 76.99 meters, compared to 76.73 meters of the level guide, says the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).

Gatun Lake, with 436 square kilometers of surface is 10 times larger than the Alajuela, so requires much more rainwater to fill at an optimum level to face the dry season that is approaching, said the ACP.

The water intake of the Federico Guardia Conte water treatment plant in Chilibre is located in Alajuela, which produces more than 200 million gallons of water per day to supply Panama City.

In addition to the low rainfall in the Canal Watershed, there is a deficit in the contributions of the main rivers, because this year the rains have been 27% below the historical average.

As part of the Canal's strategies, water from Alajuela is being sent to Gatun, but according to the ACP, "this volume of water has not been sufficient to significantly increase the level of Gatun."

Economy measures
Water saving measures are also applied in Canal operations such as suspending hydroelectric generation at the Gatun plant since October 2018 so as not to waste water through the turbines.

Hydraulic assistance is also eliminated in the panamax locks, which speed up the transit of ships, but imply greater use of water.

Cross-locks are applied, that is, water is sent between the two lanes of the panamax locks during transits, to reduce their discharge to the sea.

To the extent that the size of the vessels allows it, two ships are trafficked at the same time and the use of water-saving tubs in the Neopanamax locks is maintained.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/business/lake-gatun-below-expected-level-as-dry-season-looms

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Challenges ahead for the Canal

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Posted 01/01/2020

We celebrate - with abundant and justified reasons - the twentieth anniversary of the transfer of the Canal to Panamanian hands. Since then, our people have received more economic benefits than in the entire history of the road under the United States administration. In addition, for years, Panamanians managed to modernize several of their operations and facilities, including their successful expansion. Nothing fills us with more pride than seeing each one of the plans elaborated to maintain the commercial validity not only of the Canal, but of the route. But the challenges are far from over. Making the Channel a source of alternative and complementary businesses is another objective of the current administration, while simultaneously Alternatives are sought to meet the growing demand for water in the operations of the interoceanic canal and the needs of the growing population of the metropolitan area. To this, we must add efforts to counteract the effects of climate change, which can become risks for the existing route, as well as for the operation of the current Canal. Now is the time to celebrate, but without forgetting that we have responsibilities ahead.-LA PRENSA, Jan 1.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/opinion/challenges-ahead-for-the-canal

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Canal water woes worst in 70 years

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Posted 06/01/2020

2019 ended with the fifth-lowest amount of rainfall in the last 70 years in the Canal Hydrographic Basin, with a 20% reduction compared to the historical average, reports the Canal Authority (ACP).

Last year there were 2,149 millimeters of precipitation, which represents 20% below the historical average of 2m 695 695 millimeters, fifth-lowest since 1949.

At 7:00 am on Monday, January 6, Gatun Lake recorded 25.72 meters (84.37 feet), 1.08 meters below the expected level for this date that should be 26.80 meters (87.92 feet), while Lake Alajuela stood at 76.85 meters (252.28 feet), compared to 76.63 meters (251.42 feet) of the guide level.

Gatun Lake supplies the water purifiers of Mendoza, Laguna Alta, Monte Esperanza, Miraflores, Sabanitas, Escobal, Cuipo, and Gatún, as well as the  Canal operations

Gatun Lake, with 436 square kilometers of the surface is 10 times larger than the Alajuela, therefore, requires much more rainwater to fill at an optimal level to face the dry season ahead.

During all the months of last year, the rains in the Canal Hydrographic Basin were lower than their historical level, according to the ACP report.

This situation leads the Canal to continue with water-saving measures by suspending the hydroelectric generation in Gatun, eliminating hydraulic assistance in the Panamax locks, applying cross-lock in the Panamax locks, simultaneous locks and use of savings vats of water in the neo-Panamax locks.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/business/canal-water-woes-worst-in-70-years

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Driest-year-ever strategy for Canal

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Posted 12/01/2020

The Panama Canal’s response to climate change in 2020 will be to work as if it were the driest year in its history, which will be a tolerance test for waterway operations.

 On December 31 the Canal administrator, Ricaurte Vásquez, warned of lack of rain, with the purpose of trying to conduct the entire operation efficiently and guaranteeing the future traffic of ships.

It is assumed that by mid-January Vasquez will have the result of the analyzes that have been made regarding operations under these extreme conditions.

On Monday, January 13, the roadmap that the waterway will assume could be revealed. The announcement will be given by administrator Vásquez, who has previously commented that "so far this century we have seen new opportunities and threats, most of them, climate change that clearly affects us."

Water saving
* Suspension of power generation at the Gatún hydroelectric plant since October 2018 so as not to wastewater through the turbines.

* During the transit of ships, hydraulic assistance was eliminated in the Panamax locks, which expedite the transit of ships, but imply greater use of water.

* Cross locks. With this, water is sent between the two lanes of the Panamax locks during transits, to reduce their discharge to the sea. * The use of water-saving tubs in neo-Panamax locks is maintained.

2019 concluded as the fifth lowest year of the last 70 years in terms of rainfall in the Canal River Basin.

The Canal Authority confirmed that last year there were 2,149 millimeters of precipitation, which represents 20% below the historical average of 2 695 695 millimeters.

2019 Vásquezsais that “ at present we cannot forget that the main asset of our operation is water, and that it is being affected by climate change, impacting rain patterns and, consequently, the capacity to supply the lakes that supply water to more than half of the population of the country and give reliability to the transit of ships ”.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/environment/driest-year-ever-strategy-for-canal

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Climate change forces surcharge for ships transiting Canal

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Posted 13/01/2020

For the first time since the first ship passed through the Panama Canal in 2014, a price tag will be put on the freshwater used for each lock. The additional charge will depend on the level of the lakes: the lower the water level, the higher the cost of transit

Climate change is behind the imposition.., On  Monday, January 13 the Canal administrator, Ricaurte Vásquez, announced that from  February 15 they will charge an additional fee for the use of water during each transit.

Last year there were unprecedented low levels of rainfall - 34% less than the average in October and 27% less in November - added to irreversible effects of climate change on the water sources used by the Canal for locks. The Canal administrator announced immediate actions to address the lack of water. The most important is the surcharge for freshwater which has two components: A fixed charge of $10,000 for each vessel 91 feet wide or more and .a variable charge depending on the tonnage of the ship and that depends on the level of Gatun Lake, and that will go from a minimum of 1% with the lake at its maximum level and 10% with the lake at its minimum level.

Vásquez admitted that the measure could cause a reduction in transits,. But the reduction in tonnage will be recovered from the surcharge.

 The situation will be 'short-term' in relation to the phenomenon of rains, if it starts to rain earlier for example, but the surcharge will be maintained to give sustainability to the new investments that are in process to ensure new sources of water to continue operating, in addition to guaranteeing the water supply for human consumption.

 

https://www.newsroompanama.com/environment/climate-change-forces-surcharge-for-ships-transiting-canal

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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 service.  Eventually they will price themselves out of the market, resulting in much hand wringing and crying.  Look for solutions, build another lake, find out why the catch basins are not working efficiently, utilize ocean water more.  It's not like there isn't enough water around, just that it is not the type that the ACP wants to use.

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3 hours ago, JohnF13 said:

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 service.  Eventually they will price themselves out of the market, resulting in much hand wringing and crying.  Look for solutions, build another lake, find out why the catch basins are not working efficiently, utilize ocean water more.  It's not like there isn't enough water around, just that it is not the type that the ACP wants to use.

I tend towards your line of thinking on this topic. It’s not politically correct to say certain things now a days, such as this.

Edited by BD
spelling correction

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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 Climate Change surcharges previously, so this is a convenient way to hike fees and blame it on everyone else.

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Unedited automated translation of the above Tweet:

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The lack of rainfall is not only in the Canal Basin, it occurs in other regions of the country. In the Canal Basin, reforestation in the last 10 years has been much higher than the level of forest cover that is lost.

 

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Extension for Payment of Panama Canal Fee

The Panama Chamber of Commerce requested the Panama Canal Authority to postpone the start of collection of the fee for the use of fresh water in the Canal, which would begin to be paid on February 15, 2020.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

On January 13, the Panama Canal Authority announced that this year "... the value of water will be incorporated into the line of other maritime services through a charge for fresh water, which will depend on the availability of the resource at the time of the vessel's transit. The freshwater charge is applicable to all vessels over 125 feet in length that transit the Canal:

Fixed component: $10,000 for each transit
Variable component: percentage of toll set on the basis of the daily level of Lake Gatun of between 1% and 10% of the toll. That is, the higher the level of the lake, the less percentage would be charged, and similarly, the lower the level of the lake, the higher the percentage.
"

In light of this announcement, the Panama Maritime Chamber (CMP) has expressed its "... concern that these measures have been announced, without prior formal consultation with the different guilds of the national maritime industry, and the international end users of the Canal."

For the CMP, the measure lacks elements of certainty and clarity for the ACP's end customers, in order to determine, under criteria within its control and estimation, the rates to be recognized by the Authority for the transit of vessels, according to the guild's statement.

The House calls on the ACP to postpone charging, as dialogue must first take place with the aim of finding alternatives that will benefit the Authority and the maritime industry, without affecting the competitiveness of the sector and transit projections and estimates. The CMP requests that the methodology for calculating this new cost be reviewed.

 

https://www.centralamericadata.com/en/article/main/Extension_for_Payment_of_Panama_Canal_Fee

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