Canal Authority Imposes draft limits

National Post reported on low levels in lake Gatun which have caused Panama’s Canal Authority to implement draft limits for shops moving through the Canal.

These restrictions, that limit the depth of the vessel, have negative effects on the canal as they prevent the passage of larger ships and require some to pass through with less cargo. In short it means less revenue for the country. As these droughts return each year, and continue to worsen, it’s an indication the larger issue - climate change.

This year is has been driest period in memory for the canal basin, a subject that has been reported on by many. But the effects are more than economic, there are environmental and humanitarian issues with the drought affecting indigenous villages that depend on tributaries of the inter-oceanic passage.

The drought is a result of El Nino, a recurring phenomenon in which warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific lead to drier than usual conditions in some areas and wetter in others.

Carlos Vargas, vice-president of environment and water for the Canal Authority,  explained that recently lake Gatun fell below 1.4 metres (a normal level for this time of year), but has dropped more than 0.2 metres since early April. However, lake Alajuela, was 7.2 feet (2.2 metres) below usual.

“These low levels in the Panama Canal are the product of four or five months of almost zero precipitation,” Vargas told The Associated Press. “It really has been the driest dry season we’ve had in the history of the canal" he explained.

The Canal Authority noted they are in need of more water reserves to ease the impact of dry season, while, the lakes fill when it rains heavily, there is no place to store that surplus during the dry season.