PANAMA CITY -- The Panama Canal authority has put out a call for bids on a $2 billion package of water supply projects aimed at combating a drought that affects the fresh water lakes that supply the canal's locks.
The projects will seek alternatives for the water currently supplied by the Gatun and Alajuela artificial lakes.
Ideas suggested in the past include building dams, transferring water from other lakes to Gatun, or building desalinization plants.
This year the canal began collecting a freshwater surcharge from ships transiting the inter-oceanic waterway to address a scarcity of rainfall after the surrounding watershed recorded its fifth driest year of the last seven decades in 2019.
The new fee took effect Feb. 15 and has no expiration date. It applies to all vessels over 125 feet in length and consists of a fixed charge of $10,000 per passage plus another variable charge that will depend on water levels at Lake Gatun at the time of the crossing.
The Canal Authority said 2019 was one of the watershed’s lowest rain years in many decades, about 20% below the historic average.
The watershed, a system of rivers and brooks that feed lakes, is key to canal operations and also supplies freshwater to Panama City, home to about half the country’s population of 4 million.