Panama is currently dealing with water-supply issues due to declining precipitation rates and increased water needs. The USGS, as part of a multi-agency team, will support the Government of Panama by assessing groundwater resources and providing information on other water issues.
USGS Partners with the Government of Panama on a New Pilot Study to Assess Groundwater Resources
In January 2020 the USGS participated in a U.S. State Department team meeting with various water resource related agencies from the Government of Panama (GOP) to discuss current water issues facing planners, regulators, and users in Panama.
The team was asked to respond to the Government of Panama’s call for assistance in water management for cities, agricultural areas and canal operations. The team included Vic Heilweil, the USGS Western Hemisphere Science Advisor, Rick Kropp, the Director of the USGS New Jersey Water Science Center, and Ethan Taylor from the International Technical Assistance Program (ITAP) of the Department of the Interior (DOI), as well as members of the US Army Corps of Engineers (US ACE), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. State Department - Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Panama is currently dealing with several major water issues due to a reduction in annual rainfall and an increased demand for drinking water due to population growth and increased tourism. The decline in annual rainfall has affected the water levels in Lake Gatun, which is the primary source of water for both operations in the Panama Canal and for the drinking water supply for Panama City and surrounding areas. Lower water levels have adversely affected operations in the canal due to restrictions on maximum allowable draft, which means ships are required to pass with less cargo or larger vessels are restricted from using the canal. This has both economic and strategic implications not only for Panama, but for international commerce.
In Panama City, over half of the public water supply is lost to leakage in the distribution system due to broken pipes and other non-accountable water losses, such as unauthorized service connections. Since both operations in the canal and the public water supply rely on Lake Gatun as a water source, the leakage problems in the distribution system mean more water must be diverted for public water supply which, in turn, adversely affects the operations in the canal.
The GOP is interested in potentially utilizing groundwater to supplement water needs for the country, however there is little information available on the extent and availability of the groundwater resources in Panama. To learn more about this undeveloped resource the USGS and the GOP Ministry of the Environment have partnered to assess and map the groundwater potential in a few pilot watersheds. At the U.S. State Department meeting, the GOP Ministry also requested assistance with several other projects including the development of a groundwater monitoring network, the development of a national water information database, watershed modeling, water quality monitoring of the surface and groundwater supplies, floodplain mapping and early flood warning systems. They also expressed interest in various USGS training programs related to these tasks, enabling them to build their internal capacity to plan and manage the water resources of Panama.
Moving forward, the USACE, USGS and EPA will report to the U.S. State Department on how each agency can further assist the GOP with specific water resource related issues raised during the meeting.
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