Gatun Lake is one of the most important portions of the Panama Canal, serving as both the main waterway of the Canal and also a vast reservoir for operating the locks. Each time a ship transits the canal 53 million gallons of water is drained from the lake into the sea, a truly colossal total when combined with the 14,000 other vessel transits per year. Since rainfall is seasonal in Panama the lake is the Canal’s primary source of water storage with the local rainforest helping in water regulation and release.
Environmental concerns have been raised in the past by deforestation affecting the watershed around the lake – subsequently reducing the water capacity. Add this to the massive increase in canal traffic since its opening this is a serious issue for the Panama Canal Authority and its clients. The Lake has an excellent reputation for wildlife viewing and this may also be at stake in one of the few accessible places in Central America to see tropical rainforest animals. Environmental concerns center around the effect on the wildlife and water reserves sustainability.
The Canal Authority has stated that it plans to clamp down on logging around the Canal to ensure the security of the water table around Gatun as well as protect indigenous villages around expansion areas. Focusing instead on deepening the Lake to expand water capacity will allow the Canal to maintain growth and avoid issues such as salination of water through the waterways. The future of the Canal is one that is being taken seriously by Panamanians and its environmental impact is in the forefront of all talks. The future looks brighter for the recovering area around the Canal though and with more sensible policy the Canal can look forward to leading the way on profitable environmental practice.
This post is also available in: Spanish