The Panama Canal is facing challenges due to an extended dry season, leading to a reduction in its maximum draught and daily transits. The maximum draught has been decreased to 44 feet, and the number of daily transits has been reduced to 31, compared to the normal range of 36-38. The decision to further reduce the daily transit maximum was made in order to save water during the abnormal and prolonged dry season. The Panama Canal aims to have its navigational lake at a specific level by late November, before the official start of the dry season, in order to prepare for the rainy season.
The Panama Canal is also considering the potential impact of climate change on its operations. The possibility of continued and potentially worse droughts in the future has prompted the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to explore options such as using predictive weather technology and developing a new source of fresh water. The ACP is seeking to understand weather patterns and behaviors in order to anticipate conditions six months in advance, improving the reliability of the Panama Canal route. The ACP acknowledges that climate dependence poses a risk, even with additional reservoirs or water-saving technologies.
Building a new reservoir to address water shortages would be a lengthy process, requiring legislative approvals and filling the reservoir with fresh rainwater. This would take approximately five to six years and is considered a national and political issue due to limitations on building new reservoirs for canal operations imposed by the Panama Canal referendum. The ACP emphasizes the need to preserve water in order to overcome the dry season and acknowledges the importance of real-time data and weather information in operating the Panama Canal.