2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 3:30 PM


VARGAS, Carlos A., Engineering Division, Meteorological and Hydrographic Branch, Panama Canal Authority, PO Box 025571, Miamai, FL 33102, cvargas@pancanal.com

The Panama Canal is one of the world’s most important waterways. In transiting the canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic, or vice versa, ships are raised and lowered 85ft by a system of three sets of locks. Each lockage uses approximately 55 millions of gallons of fresh water which is lost to the oceans. The Chagres River supplies all the water used by the Panama Canal and also provides water for municipal use and the generation of hydroelectric power. For this reason, this basin is a most important watershed for the Republic of Panama and the entire world. Therefore, prudent water resources management of the Chagres watershed is vital for the continued operation of the Panama Canal.

From an operational standpoint, the greater Panama Canal Watershed, of which the Chagres River basin is the largest component part, is a managed, natural-artificial water resource system composed of sub-basins, rivers, lakes, dams, and spillways. An evolving understanding of the hydrometeorological characteristics of the watershed and interrelationships among different hydrometeorological variables (including: precipitation, water losses, gross and net runoff, evaporation, and water uses) provides the basis for current water resources management. This is accomplished through units with distinct structure, functions, and responsibilities that employ such modern tools as a telemetric network for hydrometeorological data acquisition, digital data banks, weather radar, satellite data processing stations, NOAA Port, meteorological and hydrological forecasting models, radio sonde operations, and a recently-implemented water resources management decision support system (DSS). Important aspects of watershed management are the El Niño and La Niña events that produce situations of drought or flood and have led to a specific Flood Control Program and Drought Management Strategy. As the Panama Canal Authority looks ahead to the second century of canal operation, there is a developing interest in natural resources and environmental protection throughout the Panama Canal Watershed.