Panama Canal Backlog and Water Supply Issues: Delays and Potential Solutions

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The Panama Canal is experiencing a backlog of ships due to a reduction in daily passages. Normally, 36 ships can transit the waterway each day, but this has been reduced to 32 ships. The maximum draught, or depth, allowed for ships is 13.4 meters. The backlog has caused delays for vessels, with an average wait time of 5.8 days. To address the issue, the canal has changed its reservation system to allow more non-booked vessels to pass.

The reduction in daily passages has prompted the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to review its budget for the next fiscal year. A possible cut to 30-31 daily transits is being considered. The ACP Administrator, Ricaurte Vasquez, stated that they will manage water levels and are seeking long-term solutions. The El Niño weather phenomenon has exacerbated the situation, with water levels at the Gatun Lake, which feeds the canal, lower than usual.

To ensure water availability for the next 50 years, the ACP has been carrying out the Water Programme since 2020. This initiative includes projects to guarantee water supply for the population and the canal’s operations. However, it has been determined that the technical solutions within the jurisdiction of the canal are not sufficient to meet the growing demand. The ACP has hired the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as consultants to explore external long-term solutions. The proposed project of building additional reservoirs, estimated to cost around $2 billion, would require a change in legislation and may open for bids next year.

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