Panama’s dry season, just coming to an end, has apparently been even more parched than usual. The lack of water is affecting transit through the Panama Canal.
The two sets of locks on each end of the Canal are basically like bathtubs, filling and emptying to raise or lower ships coming from sea level into the geographically higher Gatun Lake. Every time a ship goes through, most of the water is dumped back into the ocean, although the new locks apparently have some sort of drainage basin which conserves some of the precious water.
The village that I visit will be affected by low water levels as well. Gloria has told me that sometimes at this time of year, when she turns on the faucet, nothing more than a dribble of gritty water comes out, leaving a residue as she washes the clothes or in the pitcher of drinking water. The nearby hotel complex where I rent a house has a Jack Nicklaus golf course, and the amount of irrigation needed to keep the greens looking colorful and healthy during dry season has changed the water ecology for miles around. Even more serious, when the water levels are low, pesticides and fertilizer are in much greater concentration in the rivers that are the main water source.
When canal transit is down, Panama takes a big revenue hit. Having that canal revenue is what has set Panama apart from more economically challenged countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and made the country more politically stable. Panamanians are well aware that the country’s livelihood depends on water ecology, but no one has figured out how to entice Mother Nature to drop more rain when it’s needed.