In 2023, the Panama Canal faces a significant fresh water challenge due to an extended dry season caused by the El Niño phenomenon. This phenomenon delayed the onset of the rainy season, leading to a deficit in water inflow from rainfall and rivers, particularly affecting the Gatun and Alhajuela lakes, vital to canal operations.
As of now, the daily water deficit stands at three cubic hectometers (hm³), equivalent to the volume of 1,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This shortage has resulted in the Gatun reservoir dropping seven feet below its typical level for this time of year, marking a historic low during the rainy season.
The El Niño-induced dry conditions have caused accumulated rainfall in the watershed to be 25.6% less than the 73-year average. Mitigating this fresh water scarcity would require extreme weather events, such as storms or hurricanes, which are unpredictable and undesirable.
To address this challenge, the Panama Canal is taking essential measures and operational adjustments to save 1.2 million cubic meters of water daily, equivalent to 80% of the daily consumption in nearby provinces. These actions aim to ensure a consistent fresh water supply for both canal operations and public consumption during the upcoming dry season, spanning from December 2023 to April 2024.
The next two months will be crucial for increasing water storage in the Gatun and Alhajuela reservoirs to ensure water regulation capacity for 2024's dry season. These efforts align with one of the canal's core strategic objectives: to guarantee the availability and quality of fresh water for both canal operations and public use.
Despite the unprecedented challenges posed by El Niño, the Panama Canal remains committed to fulfilling its responsibilities to the nation by addressing fresh water scarcity and ensuring the uninterrupted flow of global maritime trade through the iconic waterway.