2013 – Gatun Dam and Lake: preparing for expansion

Krey Price

As the Panama Canal is upgraded to accommodate larger vessels, hydrological and ecological elements of the project are being closely monitored, along with the effects of the increased usage that is projected to accompany the upgrade when it opens to traffic in 2015. Each of the 14,000 ships that annually pass through the Panama Canal requires 200 ML of fresh water – drawn from Gatun Lake and other Chagres River reservoirs – to navigate through the locks. The reliability of a sustainable water supply is thus vital to the canal’s operation and, by extension, to the world’s economy.
Hydrologic, hydraulic, and sedimentation studies are providing baseline data for comparison with projected operational scenarios. Several projects are currently being undertaken to restore and protect the widely recognised and highly valued biodiversity within Gatun Lake’s catchment area. Efforts to promote biodiversity conservation during the construction and operation of the expansion project are being coordinated with the concurrent efforts of a variety of academic, scientific, and private institutions, including the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which is located on the largest island in Gatun Lake.
This paper examines the implications of growth and expansion on Gatun Dam and Lake. Current studies are assessing the impacts of deforestation on sedimentation and temporal flow distribution into Gatun Lake. Methodologies and results are presented for the USAID-funded Panama Canal Watershed Biodiversity Conservation Project, an undertaking that engages public and private sector partners in an effort to improve the management and conservation of critical areas through the implementation of sustainable practices and engagement of local stakeholders.

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